A Palestinian-American activist says police in the city of St. Louis, Missouri, put pressure on him to inform on others taking part in protests against violence by that force earlier this week.
Bassem Masri, a 27-year-old self-described “pissed off citizen” from St. Louis, was arrested on Monday with around a dozen other demonstrators, including the hip-hop artist Tef Poe, while protesting at an area Walmart.
It was the third Walmart store that protesters shut down that evening in a series of actions demanding justice for Black lives cut short by police violence.
Walmart was targeted to bring attention to the police killing of John Crawford III, a 22-year-old Black man shot dead in August by a white police officer in an Ohio Walmart while talking on his cell phone and holding a toy gun. In September a grand jury decided against indicting the officers involved.
Every protester arrested at Walmart was released a few hours later, except for Masri, who was held until Tuesday night and charged with third degree assault for allegedly spitting at an officer at a protest last week. Masri has denied the charge.
Masri told The Electronic Intifada that during his jail stay, St. Louis City police pressured the Palestinian-American to become a collaborator against his fellow protesters in exchange for leniency.
After being held overnight at the Richmond Heights police station, police transferred Masri to the St. Louis Justice Center on Tuesday morning. It was there, he says, that they tried to recruit him as a collaborator.
According to Masri, he was taken into an interrogation room and told to give an official statement about spitting at the officer.
“I just remained silent,” he recounted. “Then they said that there was a video of me doing it, so I asked to see my lawyer. But they didn’t even let me contact my lawyer. So I said, ‘What are y’all really bringing me in here for? You got me here for a reason. So come out with it.’”
It was then that the officers told Masri that the third degree assault charge would be taken under advisement, or put on hold, in exchange for information about protesters.
“They wanted me to put names to faces on protesters and to let them know where we be going,” recalled Masri. “It’s like extortion. I have to snitch on my friends. If I don’t snitch on my friends, they’ll re-arrest me on the [third degree assault] charge.”
Masri refused their offer and demanded he be taken back to his cell.