A Holocaust survivor known for anti-Israel activism in the US was arrested in St. Louis Monday while protesting against the heavy-handed law enforcement response to demonstrations and rioting in nearby Ferguson, Missouri.
Hedy Epstein, 90, was detained along with eight other people after they linked arms to block the entrance of government building where Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has an office, The Nation reported.
The arrests came as swirling racial tensions in the area have threatened to spiral out of control after the shooting an unarmed black teen by police and subsequent clashes between police and protesters in the St. Lious suburb of Ferguson.
Overnight Monday, two people were shot with live fire and 31 were arrested.
“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager,” Epstein said as she was taken away in plastic handcuffs. “I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90. We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”
Epstein, a German-born American political activist, has in the past supported the Palestinian cause through International Solidarity Movement, and taken part in demonstrations against the Gaza blockade, including protests in Cairo.
Charged with failure to disperse, Epstein and all but one of the protesters were later released.
The arrests came after over 120 protesters marched to the building to demand that Nixon order National Guard troops out of the city.
The National Guard had kept its distance from the streets where protesters clashed again with police in the evening, as clouds of tear gas and smoke hung over the St. Louis suburb where 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer.
Protesters filled the streets after nightfall Monday, and officers trying to enforce tighter restrictions at times used bullhorns to order them to disperse. Police deployed noisemakers and armored vehicles to push demonstrators back. Officers fired tear gas and flash grenades.
Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who is in charge of security in Ferguson, said bottles and Molotov cocktails were thrown from the crowd and that some officers had come under heavy gunfire. At least two people were shot and 31 were arrested, he said. He did not have condition updates on those who were shot. Johnson said four officers were injured by rocks or bottles.
Demonstrators no longer faced the neighborhood’s midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew, but police told protesters that they could not assemble in a single spot and had to keep moving. After the streets had been mostly cleared, authorities ordered reporters to leave as well, citing the risk from gunfire that had been reported.
A photographer for the Getty photo agency was arrested while covering the demonstrations and later released. Two German reporters were arrested and detained for three hours. Conservative German daily Die Welt said correspondent Ansgar Graw and reporter Frank Herrmann, who writes for German regional papers, were arrested after allegedly failing to follow police instructions to vacate an empty street. They said they followed police orders.
Johnson said members of the media had to be asked repeatedly to return to the sidewalks and that it was a matter of safety. He said in some cases it was not immediately clear who was a reporter but that once it was established, police acted properly.
Citing “a dangerous dynamic in the night,” Johnson also urged protesters with peaceful intent to demonstrate during the daytime hours.
The latest clashes came after a day in which a pathologist hired by Michael Brown’s family said the unarmed 18-year-old suffered a bullet wound to his right arm that may indicate his hands were up or his back was turned. But the pathologist said the team that examined Brown cannot be sure yet exactly how the wounds were inflicted until they have more information.
Witnesses have said Brown’s hands were above his head when he was repeatedly shot by an officer August 9.
The independent autopsy determined that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, the family’s lawyers and hired pathologists said.
The St. Louis County medical examiner’s autopsy found that Brown was shot six to eight times in the head and chest, office administrator Suzanne McCune said Monday. But she declined to comment further, saying the full findings were not expected for about two weeks.
A grand jury could begin hearing evidence Wednesday to determine whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged in Brown’s death, said Ed Magee, spokesman for St. Louis County’s prosecuting attorney.
A third and final autopsy was performed Monday for the Justice Department by one of the military’s most experienced medical examiners, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Holder was scheduled to travel to Ferguson later this week to meet with FBI and other officials carrying out an independent federal investigation into Brown’s death.
The Justice Department has mounted an unusually swift and aggressive response to Brown’s death, from the independent autopsy to dozens of FBI agents combing Ferguson for witnesses to the shooting.
In Washington, President Barack Obama said the vast majority of protesters in Ferguson were peaceful, but warned that a small minority was undermining justice. Obama said overcoming the mistrust endemic between many communities and their local police would require Americans to “listen and not just shout.”