The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I just kept asking: Why am I being arrested for sitting in my aunt’s driveway?’

Joshua Hampton saw the big black police truck from down the block. He saw the lights, and the officers in military garb clinging to the sides. He wasn’t worried. It was around 2 a.m. Sunday, two hours after the new curfew mandated for Ferguson, Mo., but Hampton was sitting in his own car, smoking a cigarette in his aunt’s driveway. He thought he was obeying the law.

But the truck stopped and suddenly, Hampton says, his car was surrounded by police. “Put your [expletive] hands up!” he says they told him.

And then Hampton and his friends became among the seven people arrested the first night after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) declared a state of emergency in the St. Louis suburb. Nixon’s decision came a week after 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in an officer-involved shooting, sparking protests in the community.

“They kept telling me to get out of the car, but I didn’t want to make any kind of movement,” Hampton, 30, told The Post in a phone interview Sunday.

The officer by his window had a gun pointed at his chest, says Hampton, who provided a copy of his arrest report to the Washington Post. He wanted to make sure the police could see his hands at all times, and he was afraid to reach down for the door lock. Finally, the officer reached in through the open window and opened the door himself.

Hampton’s girlfriend and her friend also were in the car. The three of them had gone to a Justice for Mike Brown march earlier that evening and had returned to Hampton’s aunt’s house, where they decided to take a cigarette break.

Hampton, who owns a T-shirt-printing business, says they discussed just standing in the yard but worried it might look as if they were loitering passersby. So the trio went to his car to smoke, figuring that a private car on a private lawn would not fall under the curfew.

Instead, he says, the police ordered all three of them into the police truck, taking them first to a nearby command post.

“I just kept asking, ‘Why am I being arrested for sitting in my aunt’s driveway?’ ” Hampton says. “They said, ‘Curfew’ — and I said, ‘But I’m sitting at my aunt’s house.’ ”

The police transferred them to another vehicle, Hampton says, and drove them to the county jail, where they were photographed. Ultimately, he says, police told him that he would be released with a pending charge of “failure to disperse,” which confused Hampton. He didn’t know where he was supposed to disperse to, given that he was already on a relative’s private property.

Calls to St. Louis police officials confirmed that seven people had been arrested, but did not yield additional information on Hampton’s arrest.

Hampton grew up in Berkeley, Mo., not far from Ferguson. A few days before Brown was shot, Hampton’s cousin was also shot — a stray bullet while she waited at a bus stop. This is why Hampton was in Ferguson this week: He wanted to be with his family, to check in on a cousin who had been told she might never walk again.

After about five hours, Hampton and his girlfriend were told they could leave, he says. Of the seven who were arrested, five — including Hampton and his friends — had been at the protest march, according to Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment. Hampton will be out again Sunday night, he says.

“People need to see that we can, as a people, make a change,” he said.