Charlie Coffeen was one of four Chicagoans arrested Monday in Ferguson, Mo., a little more than a week after a police officer there shot and killed an unarmed teenager and sparked sometimes violent protests.
A 26-year-old musician from Logan Square, Coffeen participated in rallies on Sunday and Monday in support of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who, witnesses say, was shot by Officer Darren Wilson.
“He’s not an anomaly,” Coffeen said of Brown. “It’s a big deal. It’s worth getting angry about.”
During a brief telephone interview with the Tribune this evening, Coffeen said he was talking with another protester he befriended in the two days he was in Ferguson when a group of about 40 officers in riot gear and batons urged protesters to leave the area. When Coffeen and his friend split up, Coffeen walked away from the police so he could meet up with another friend who was letting him spend the night, he said.
That’s when he encountered a group of roughly 20 officers, who detained about six people.
Coffeen said he “stopped and put my hands up and asked where to go.”
“Go. Walk,” one of the officers said as he motioned to Coffeen in one direction.
After taking about 10 steps, Coffeen said he was approached by a separate group of officers with their guns drawn and their lights focused on him.
“Don’t take another step or I’ll shoot,” Coffeen recalled one of the officers telling him.
That’s when Coffeen turned to another group of officers and tried to explain that he was walking away, which was what other officers had told him to do.
Coffeen said police told him to lie flat on his stomach so they could fasten his hands with zip ties. He said an officer put an knee to his back to pin him on the ground.
“I’m tired of these people,” Coffeen said he heard one of the officers say.
Coffeen was among dozens of others arrested and taken to the St. Louis County Jail.
Like Coffeen, most were detained for refusing to obey police orders to disperse. He said he was not formally charged with a crime. He was released from the jail around 5 a.m. this morning.
Coffeen said he wasn’t scared.
“I was confident that I hadn’t done anything wrong,” he said.
Coffeen plays piano with his jazz, soul and hip-hip group, “Sidewalk Chalk,” and tours the country with them. He said he came to Ferguson because Brown’s shooting “just kind of struck me as my cause.”
Tribune reporter Rosemary Regina Sobol contributed to this story.