Independent livestreamer Jon Ziegler pepper-sprayed and arrested in St. Louis
Jon Ziegler, an independent livestreamer also known as “Rebelutionary Z,” was pepper sprayed and arrested on September 17, 2017, while covering a protest in St. Louis, Missouri.
On Sunday night, hundreds of people gathered in downtown St. Louis to protest the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.
Around 11 p.m., large groups of St. Louis metropolitan police officers boxed in about a hundred people at the intersection of Washington Street and Tucker Boulevard and ordered them to get on the ground, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Ziegler was among those caught in the kettle. At the time, he was carrying a camera and an iPhone on a tripod.
Ziegler told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that police officers repeatedly doused him and other journalists and protesters in the kettle with pepper spray.
“I was drenched in spray” he said. “I remember my tripod looking like it had rained on it.”
He said that while he lay on the ground, one officer sprayed pepper spray directly at his mouth and others physically assaulted him.
“I start feeling jabs in my back,” he said. “All of a sudden, I feel a foot or a knee on the back of my head just pushing it into the concrete and grinding it into the concrete.”
Ziegler said that police officers celebrated after arresting everyone in the kettle, smoking cigars and mocking the journalists, protesters and legal observers who had been arrested. A bystander interviewed by NPR also claimed that officers smoked cigars and mocked protesters after making arrests. Post-Dispatch photojournalist David Carson tweeted a video on which officers can be heard chanting, “Whose Streets? Our Streets,” in mockery of protesters.
Asked about the video, a police department spokeswoman told Reuters: “The Department is aware of the video circulating on social media, and is reviewing the footage. We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable.”
Ziegler said that officers specifically alluded to and mocked his journalistic work while arresting him, repeatedly calling him “superstar” and taking selfies with him. He said that the officer who arrested him joked that he was his “biggest fan” and bragged that he watched all of his livestreams.
“They were quoting back my tweets to me and quoting back parts of the stream,” he said. “That kind of joking and sarcastic behavior continued inside the precinct with some of the officers.”
Like others arrested in the kettle, Ziegler was taken to a nearby jail. He said that he was held for more than 12 hours, before finally being released on a $50 bond.
Ziegler’s livestream from September 17 shows police officers surrounding the protesters from all sides and pepper spraying them.
“They maced me for having my camera going,” Ziegler says on the livestream at one point. “We’re all just choking on mace now. We’re drowning in mace here.”
Later in the stream, officers approach Ziegler to handcuff and arrest him. One person offscreen calls him “superstar.”
“You heard them call me superstar on camera, guys,” Ziegler says. “They’re putting on the cuffs real tight, real fucking right. They’re beating the shit out of me. They’re fucking beating the shit out of me! Stop pushing my head in the ground!”
“Shut up,” someone says offscreen.
“They’re pushing my head in the ground, real tight.” Ziegler says, just before screaming out in pain. “Fuck, they sprayed me again!”
As Ziegler is led away from the scene, an officer approaches his phone and shuts off the livestream.
A police department spokeswoman told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that no journalist has made a formal complaint of police misconduct.
“We hold our officers to the highest standards of professionalism and any officer not meeting those standards will be held accountable,” the spokeswoman said. “No members of the media have contacted the Internal Affairs Division to make a formal complaint. If anyone would like to make a complaint of officer misconduct, they should contact our Internal Affairs Division via our website (slmpd.org), phone (444-5652) or in person at Police Headquarters, 1915 Olive.”