By: Bakari Kitwana

At the height of the presidential primary season in March, about 30 activists gathered at St. Louis’ Peabody Opera House to protest a Donald Trump campaign rally there. One of the activists, Melissa McKinnies, says that even before the Republican candidate took the stage, his supporters were chanting, “Build a wall! U.S.A! Build a wall! U.S.A!”

McKinnies, a 40-year-old Black mother of three who was a consistent fixture at the protests in Ferguson following Michael Brown’s death, was among 20 Black and Latino protesters stationed on the ground floor trying to be heard above the din. “Stop the hate!” they yelled. “Stop the hate!” In the balcony, 10 or so White protesters rolled out an anti-Trump banner. At one point, a handful of White allies created a human shield around the people of color on the ground floor. Still, McKinnies was terrified.

“I sit there, and the more I listen, the more afraid I am because they are screaming and you hear the word ‘nigger’ in there like crazy—like it’s an ordinary, everyday word. They are pointing their fingers and you see fists and folks are yelling things like,‘U.S.A.!’ and ‘Get out of here, nigger!’”

After the banner was unfurled, groups of police moved to eject the protesters from the balcony and the ground floor. “We got picked up, slammed, dragged out of the building and eventually taken to the police station,” McKinnies says.

Of the 32 anti-Trump activists police removed, 31 received summonses for disturbing the peace. But McKinnies, a former member of Ferguson grassroots activist group Lost Voices, was slapped with a second-degree robbery charge that had nothing to do with the rally. The charge—greatly inflated—was connected to a 2014 nonviolent exchange at a church meeting that McKinnies had with a man who wouldn’t stop recording the private gathering.

McKinnies is now facing a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison.

With nearly two decades in prison hanging over her head, McKinnies has joined the ranks of embattled activists who emerged organically as local leaders of the broader movement for Black lives. They lack the notoriety and resources of famous arrestees such as Cornel West, yet they are well known to their local police departments. A look at circumstances surrounding some of their felony arrests suggest either outlandish coincidences or that they are being targeted by the police from whom they’re demanding justice.

Read the full article at Colorlines.

Photo: Flickr