Sunday night's protests before and during the Cowboys' home opener in Arlington against the Giants and the demonstrations' aftermath are like a Rorschach test for how one feels about the current state of policing in North Texas.
If one is inclined to take the side of those protesting the recent deaths of Botham Jean and Oshae Terry, a 24-year-old man killed by Arlington police in early September, the arrests of nine protesters and the nearly full day those nine ended up spending in jail, might seem like an overreaction to a peaceful protest. If, on the other hand, one believes that the protests that have been ongoing since an off-duty Dallas police officer killed Jean in his apartment on Sept. 6 have made things tough for police and officers should act when civil demonstration become civil disobedience, the nine arrests might seem like too few.
The first media reports coming out of the protests at AT&T Stadium on Sunday night made no mention of the arrests, which happened after the protest proper ended, according to Arlington Police Department Lt. Christopher Cook.
Demonstrators including attorney Lee Merritt, who is representing the interests of the Jean family, and Freddy Haynes, the pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church, held a funeral vigil for Jean and Terry, wheeling caskets around the stadium as fans entered before kickoff.
After the initial protest was over, Cook said, the nine people who would eventually be arrested showed up, initially blocking fans from entering the stadium's Gate E.
"[The original group] was respectful. They did their thing," Cook said. "This group showed up after the fact. They blocked the entrance there. We told them, 'That's a ticketed gate. You can't block the entrance.'"
After leaving the stadium gate, the second group headed to the intersection of Collins Street and Randol Mill Road and began marching in the intersection, shutting down traffic. When the protesters failed to get out of the intersection, Cook says, APD officers arrested them for highway obstruction, a Class B misdemeanor.
In a lengthy statement, Merritt essentially agrees with the official account to the point at which the protesters "willingly submitted" to being arrested. It was after the arrests that police singled out the protesters for unfair treatment, Merritt said.
The officers booking the nine into Arlington's city jail should've used their discretion and filed Class C misdemeanor charges. That would've allowed them to have their bails set at the Arlington jail and to have been released Sunday night.
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"Arlington PD officers' failure to exercise the proper discretion in this case is particularly offensive — given these citizens were protesting the shooting death of two unarmed black men in the past two weeks by police officers," Merritt said.
Thanks to a new Tarrant County policy that went into effect in January — Cook says it's intended to make sure bails are consistent across the county — anyone arrested for a Class B misdemeanor or higher has to be processed through Tarrant County Jail before he or she can have bail set. Those arrested are picked up from the Arlington Jail and taken to the county jail in Fort Worth once a day, at 1 p.m.
Cook told the Observer that the officers could not have downgraded the charges to a C misdemeanor.
By Monday evening, each of the nine individuals arrested had been transferred to Tarrant County Jail. Their bond amounts were not immediately available.