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Tyranny in the M-O

The abuse of civil liberties by authorities in Missouri is worse than we thought.

Here's a quick update on a blog post I wrote last week: The baffling, ongoing war against civil liberties and free speech that is being waged by authorities in and around Ferguson, Missouri. I noted here a few days back that officials in the Show Me State had apparently gained no additional respect for the 1st Amendment in the year since that St. Louis suburb was rocked by unrest over the police killing of an unarmed black 18-year-old. The centerpiece of that argument was a summons issued to two prominent journalists who now stand accused of "trespassing" inside a McDonald's restaurant where they were filing news reports about the protests and the massive, militarized police response.

That was absurd, but this week it was revealed that the charges against the journalists were the proverbial tip of the iceberg. In fact, the once obscure county lawyer for St. Louis County, Peter Krane, has waited a year to lodge criminal charges against scores of protesters -- charges that in many cases are merely a cop's determination that they hadn't obeyed an order to clear the streets within five seconds.

The ACLU is rightly incensed:

 CLAYTON • The American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups have blasted St. Louis County for belatedly filing criminal cases against demonstrators arrested during the 2014 unrest in Ferguson.

"We condemn this action as a blatant violation of constitutional rights and an appalling misuse of our already overburdened court system," the ACLU said in a statement released jointly with the St. Louis University Law Litigation Clinic and the lawyers group ArchCity Defenders late Tuesday afternoon.

The ACLU estimates hundreds of charges could now be filed against those arrested during the protests that followed the Aug. 9, 2014, shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson.

Those charged will be cited for violating county ordinances.

You know, there's a thing called de-escalation. Yanking the scab off the wounds of last summer's police coup in Ferguson is really the last thing that region needs as it tries to heal. These charges -- trumped up at best, and completely unwarranted and unconstitutional in the case of the journalists who were issued summons -- are a serious abuse of power, exactly that kind of tyranny that our Founding Fathers revolted against.

Just this afternoon, there was another police-involved killing in the city of St. Louis. The county police chief says that a suspect pointed a gun at officers, and if a proper investigation proves that to be the case, these police officers had every right to defend themselves. It is disturbing, however, that after all the chaos of the last year, police officials have neither the money nor the strong inclination to equip their officers with body cams, which would offer a lot more clarity.

As I write this, a large, unhappy crowd is demonstrating at the scene, and they have been met yet again with a massive show of force. The risk of more unrest in Missouri is troubling -- but let's be clear: Things won't get better there until people in authority do their part, and respect the basic human rights of Missouri's citizens.