New Survey on Campus Sexual Assault Finds ‘Deeply Disturbing’ Results

Published on Tuesday, September 22, 2015 by Common Dreams

More than a quarter of female undergraduate students from 27 schools experienced some form of sexual assault or misconduct on campus during their four years at college, according to a new survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU) released Monday.

AAU sent surveys to all 26 of its member schools, plus Dartmouth College, making it one of the biggest studies ever conducted on campus sexual violence. Out of 150,000 students polled, 27.2 percent of undergraduate women and five percent of undergraduate men at the country’s top universities said they had been victims of non-consensual sexual contact—ranging from touching to penetration, occurring either by force or incapacitation.

Nearly half of the women who responded—13.5 percent—experienced assault by penetration, attempted penetration, or oral sex.

And another 20 percent of overall respondents said sexual assault or misconduct is “very or extremely problematic” on their campus.

The issue garnered renewed attention in the past year after a series of high-profile cases at schools such as the University of Wisconsin, the University of Notre Dame, and Columbia University, among others, led to the formation of the first White House task force on college sexual assault, which urged schools to conduct “campus climate” surveys tocultivate a better understanding of when and how sexual assault occurs.

According to the AAU’s results, the answer is often—and with near impunity. Of the students who said they had been victims of penetration or attempted penetration, only one-quarter said they told law enforcement or other authorities about their experience. A significant percentage said they chose not to report their assaults because they were “embarrassed, ashamed or that it would be too emotionally difficult” or “…did not think anything would be done about it.”

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, 28 percent of undergraduate women and five percent of men said they had been victims of non-consensual sexual contact, with 13 percent of women also stating they had been assaulted through penetration or attempted penetration.

“This is a health and safety problem, but it is also an educational one that threatens our academic mission. More than half of women who reported experiencing a sexual assault said they suffered academically as well as personally,” said UW chancellor Rebecca Blank.

The new survey bolsters previous studies that have returned similar results. In June, a poll conducted by Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation found that 20 percent of women and five percent of men who attended a residential college were sexually assaulted during their four-year tenure.

Leaders of the schools said they would undertake serious measures to address the issue. On Monday, Yale University president Peter Salovey told the Post that the findings of the survey were “extremely disturbing.”

Twenty-eight percent of Yale undergrad women and eight percent of Yale undergrad men said they had been sexually assaulted on campus.

In response to the findings, Harvard University president Drew Gilpin Faust said in a letter to the school’s community, “These deeply disturbing survey results must spur us to an even more intent focus on the problem of sexual assault. That means not just how we talk to one another about it, not just what we say in official pronouncements, but how we actually treat one another and live our lives together.”

Added University of Texas at Austin president Gregory L. Fenves, “One sexual assault is too many.”

“It is essential that we foster a campus that does not tolerate sexual assaults while strongly encouraging victims to come forward and report incidents.”

‘Refugees Welcome’: As EU Slams Door on War Survivors, People Show Another Way

Published on Tuesday, September 01, 2015 by Common Dreams

In response to the worst refugee crisis since World War II, European governments aretightening their borders and preparing to escalate military targeting of so-called human smugglers. But many people within the European Union are modeling a different approach by holding rallies and opening their homes to welcome refugees of war and poverty who survive the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.

Over 20,000 people marched through Vienna on Monday to protest the horrific treatment of refugees, the week after the bodies of 71 people were found in a truck on a highway between the Hungarian border and Vienna. In what was billed as a welcome rally, marchers carried signs which read: “I don’t want Europe to be a mass grave.” The crowd included numerous parents carrying children and erupted into Austrian pop songs as they were cheered by enthusiastic passersby.

According to media reports, trains carrying refugees from Budapest and Hegyeshalom to Vienna were met Monday with hundreds of people applauding and carrying a banner that read: “Refugees Welcome: Open Borders.” Many of the people who greeted the travelers reportedly brought water, bread, and diapers.

Meanwhile, in Iceland, thousands of people have offered their homes to Syrian refugees in response to the Facebook group “Syria is calling,” which was started by professor and writer Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir. “Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host,” states the plea to the government. “People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine.'”

The Berlin-based organization Refugees Welcome is also working to connect people willing to share their homes with refugees in need of shelter. As of Tuesday, over 780 Germans hadreportedly signed up and 26 people had been placed. In late August, thousands of people attended a rally to welcome immigrants and refugees in the German city of Dresden, organized by the Anti-Nazi Alliance following violent attacks on asylum seekers.

And across Germany, soccer clubs—many of which are known for welcoming, supporting, and mentoring refugees and immigrants—have displayed banners declaring “refugees welcome” at their matches.

“No one leaves their country, house, or children to suffer. When someone leaves it is because of war and poverty.” —Gloria Ekereuwem, Asociación Mujeres Entre Mundos

Many of those organizing support are refugees themselves, like Gloria Ekereuwem, who is originally from Nigeria and currently lives in Seville, Spain, where she works with the group Asociación Mujeres Entre Mundos. “No one leaves their country, house, or children to suffer. When someone leaves it is because of war and poverty,” Ekereuwem told Common Dreamsover the phone. “That is why people leave. They are looking for peace. If you can offer them that peace, please do it.”

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in June that one out of every 122 people on the planet is a refugee, seeking asylum, or internally displaced. Displacement has increased four-fold over the past four years, with the conflict in Syria acting as the largest driver of this rise, and surging conflicts from the Central African Republic to Yemen to Ukraine also fueling these grim numbers.

As many have pointed out, wealthy nations including the United States play a disproportionate role in driving war, conflict, and global inequality, yet turn their backs on those who are displaced. Observers have argued that the refugee crisis, in fact, is a creation of the West, given the role of the U.S. and NATO in destabilizing North Africa and the Middle East.

Now, the EU is embracing a “military solution” by advancing plans to target boats transporting refugees. And Hungary is preparing to deploy the army to its borders and hasstarted work on a fence along the border with Serbia to the south in a bid to stem the flow of migrants. Meanwhile, hundreds of refugees are protesting for a second day as Hungary blocks them from boarding trains to other EU nations.

Despite the efforts of some EU residents, many of the more than 300,000 people who have crossed the Mediterranean this year so far have received anything but a warm welcome. More than 2,400 have died in 2015 alone trying to reach Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration. The humanitarian failure of governments is accompanied by racist, anti-immigrant blow-back, from Germany to Hungary.

Ekereuwem of the Asociación Mujeres Entre Mundos argued that closing borders, attacking boats, and cutting off aid will not stem the flow of people fleeing war and poverty: “Everyone has the right to move. We should respect the law of human rights. We should extend our hands to our neighbors.”

China Port Explosions Release Deadly Chemical, Prompting Fear and Outrage

Published on Saturday, August 15, 2015 by Common Dreams

The death toll from this week’s fiery explosions at the Chinese port of Tianjin climbedabove 100 on Saturday, while confusion spread over whether authorities had ordered the evacuation of everyone within two miles amid fears of chemical contamination.

According to news reports, an evacuation order came after an apparent change in wind direction, and as police confirmed the highly toxic chemical sodium cyanide was found near the site of successive blasts that were so big they were seen from space.

Anti-chemical warfare troops have entered the site, according to the BBC.

Reuters reports:

Evacuees were advised to wear long trousers and face masks as they “evacuated in an orderly fashion”, according to a post on the official microblog of the Tianjin branch of the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China. The streets appeared calm.

But not all was clear amid emotional scenes as families of missing fire fighters sought answers about their loved ones and officials tried to keep media cameras away. Gong Jiansheng, a district official, told reporters there had been no evacuation.

The Associated Press adds:

Two Chinese news outlets, including the state-run The Paper, reported that the warehouse was storing 700 tons of sodium cyanide — 70 times more than it should have been holding at one time — and that authorities were rushing to clean it up.

Sodium cyanide is a toxic chemical that can form a flammable gas upon contact with water.

And the New York Times writes that “Orders for a large-scale evacuation of the neighborhoods closest to the blast were quickly rescinded, underscoring the government’s halting efforts to cope with one of China’s worst industrial accidents in recent years.”

“The company that owned the warehouse where the blasts originated, Rui Hai International Logistics, appears to have violated Chinese law by operating close to apartment buildings and worker dormitories,” journalist Andrew Jacobs reports for the Times. “Residents say they were unaware that the company was handling dangerous materials.”

About 6,300 people have been displaced by the blasts, with around 721 injured and 33 in serious condition, Xinhua news agency said. At least 21 firefighters are reported dead.

As Anniversary Nears, Atomic Bomb Survivors Speak Out Against Nuclear Power

Published on Wednesday, August 05, 2015 by Common Dreams

As the world nears the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6th and 9th, some of the individuals who survived the horror of nuclear detonation are speaking out against the continued proliferation of nuclear energy.

With strong backing from President Shinzo Abe, Japan is set to restart its nuclear power program on August 10th, beginning with the Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Sendai plant in the southwestern prefecture. It will mark the first restart since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011.

The convergence of the two events has prompted a number of Japanese survivors to come forward.

“I think that since the risk of nuclear power and the fact that human beings cannot control it has become clear, none of the reactors should be restarted,” 87-year-old Atsushi Hoshinotold Reuters, speaking from his home in Fukushima City, which is roughly 37 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Hoshino said that until the recent disaster he “felt somewhat uncomfortable about nuclear power, but … was in a situation where it wasn’t possible to oppose it.”

Japan is not alone in its support of nuclear energy. Often framed as a “green” alternative to fossil fuels, nuclear power stations are in operation in more than 30 countries, with more being built.

Hoshino is not alone, either. A group of survivors now living in Brazil has organized a victims group that works to raise public awareness about the risks of nuclear plants and waste. Takashi Morita, who was 21 years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, was one of the founding members of the group.

“I experienced the bomb. I saw many die. I have lived until now with a spirit dedicated to ensuring humanity never again sees such a terrible thing,” Morita told the Guardian.Together, the two bombs—known as “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”—killed approximately 450,000 people and injured countless more.

Another survivor and São Paulo resident Junko Kosumo added: “Many people don’t know that radiation is so close to our lives. People must be aware of it, what radiations are and what kind of effect they have in our body. We must pass on [what we know of the risks] to future generations.”

In a blog post on Wednesday, Junichi Sato, executive director at Greenpeace Japan,comments on the parallel paths of destruction Japan, and the world, currently faces.

“We’ve seen the effects of war. We’ve seen the effects of nuclear,” Sato writes.

If anything, Sato continues, the anniversary of the bombings reminds the world “of the consequences of nuclear energy” and the need to “create a safer and sustainable future for the people of Japan and the world.”

Beloved Zimbabwe Lion Hunted and Murdered By American Dentist.

On July 6th 2015, beloved Zimbabwe lion Cecil was hunted and killed for sport. Cecil was part of a research program and wore a GPS collar. It seems Cecil was lured away from the national park he resided in then shot with a cross bow and tracked for 40 hours before he was shot with a gun, as said by Johnny Rodrigues, leader of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force. Johnny Rodrigues also stated that Cecil’s head and skin had been removed as a trophy, later found and confiscated the head and skin have been entered into evidence.

For Oil and Gas Companies, Rigging Seems to Involve Wages, Too

For Oil and Gas Companies, Rigging Seems to Involve Wages, Too

by Naveena Sadasivam ProPublica, Sep. 25, 2014, 10:02 a.m.

A ProPublica review of U.S. Department of Labor investigations shows that oil and gas workers 2013 men and women often performing high-risk jobs 2013 are routinely being underpaid, and the companies hiring them often are using accounting techniques to deny workers benefits such as medical leave or unemployment insurance.

The DOL investigations have centered on what is known as worker “misclassification,” an accounting gambit whereby companies treat full time employees as independent contractors paid hourly wages, and then fail to make good on their obligations. The technique, investigators and experts say, has become ever more common as small companies seek to gain contracts in an intensely competitive market by holding labor costs down.

In the complex, rapidly expanding oil and gas industry, much of the day to day work done on oil rigs and gas wells is sub-contracted out to smaller companies. For instance, on one gas rig alone, the operator might hire one company to construct the well pad, another to drill the well, a third company to provide hydraulic fracking services and yet another to truck water and chemicals for disposal.

But for the thousands of workers in the hundreds of different companies, a single standard is supposed to apply: by law, they must be paid more than minimum wage and they must be fairly compensated for any overtime accrued.

In 2012, the DOL began a special enforcement initiative in its Northeast and Southwest regional offices targeting the fracking industry and its supporting industries. As of August this year, the agency has conducted 435 investigations resulting in over $13 million in back wages found due for more than 9,100 workers. ProPublica obtained data for 350 of those cases from the agency. In over a fifth of the investigations, companies in violation paid more than $10,000 in back wages.

One of those companies was Morco Geological Services, a company providing mud logging services for other oil and gas drilling companies. In 2013, the DOL found that Morco was paying some workers $75 daily for working virtually round-the-clock shifts. The company eventually agreed to pay $595,737 in back wages to 121 workers following the DOL’s investigation. In another significant case, Hutco, a company providing labor services to the oil and gas industry, ended up paying $1.9 million to 2,267 employees assigned to work in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

“The problem of misclassification has become pervasive,” said Dr. David Weil, a former economics professor at Boston University who today heads the DOL’s Wage and Hour Division.  “Employers are looking for opportunities in a changing business landscape at the employee’s expenses to cut corners as much as possible, leaving room for wage and hour violations.”

Over the last decade, the oil and gas industry has seen tremendous growth. Between 2007 and 2012, when average employment in all U.S. industries fell by 2.7 percent, employment in the oil and gas industry increased by over 30 percent. According to research conducted by Annette Bernhardt, a scholar on low-wage work, 84 percent of workers in the oil, gas and mining industry were employed by contractors in 2012.

At the same time, the industry has also seen an increase in fatalities and injuries on the job. There is, so far, no evidence to suggest that these accidents are a result of inadequate training or overworked laborers. But accounts from other industries that heavily outsource work suggest those risks could be present.

For example, a 2012 investigation by ProPublica and PBS Frontline showed that cell phone carriers often contract out the dangerous job of climbing towers to smaller firms, which don’t provide the necessary training and equipment to climbers. As a result, the death rate was 10 times higher among cell tower climbers than other construction workers.

Between December 2009 and November 2011, Troy Bearden worked on gas rigs in Pennsylvania and Colorado for Precision Air Drilling Services, a company that provides labor services for oil and gas exploration around the country. During that time period, Bearden worked an average of 12 hours a day, seven days a week, unloading and hooking up drilling equipment and maintaining it during operation.

Bearden was a full time employee of Precision Air Drilling, but the company classified him as exempt from the federal overtime statute, the Fair Labor Standards Act, and did not pay him time and a half for his overtime hours.

In 2011, Bearden and other workers filed a class action lawsuit against the company. Precision Air Drilling settled for $500,000.

“We know that the oil and gas industry has a reputation of paying high wages, but the economic reality often is they receive large paychecks because of the number of hours they’re putting in,” said Betty Campbell, the Deputy Regional Administrator for the South West Region of the DOL.

Labor lawyers specializing in wage disputes say the governing law 2013 the Fair Labor Standards Act 2013 is not easy to understand, interpret and comply with. As a result, they say employers can be unintentionally violating wage laws. But several investigations by the DOL show there are companies willfully dodging their responsibilities. The violations 2013 accidental or intentional 2013 are being committed by companies large and small, lawyers and labor officials say.

“You would think that some of the larger companies would be better in terms of compliance, what we’re seeing is these violations are really rampant in this industry and affect all sizes of companies,” said Shanon Carson, a lawyer with Philadelphia-based Berger & Montague, who has represented several oil and gas workers, including Bearden, in class action lawsuits.

The oil and gas industry is hardly the only industry to be afflicted with wage abuses. A recent investigation by McClatchy found that misclassification of workers was especially rampant in the construction industry, where companies flouted labor laws to evade taxes.

In the last few years the DOL has been cracking down on companies in several industries including construction, healthcare and hospitality. In recent years the Wage and Hour Division has had its funding increased by millions of dollars and upped its number of investigators by 300.

Federal wage and hour lawsuits have also seen an increase. Last year alone the number of Fair Labor Standards Act cases increased by 10 percent to 7,764.

“Anecdotally, I think the trend is similar if not more in the oil and gas industry simply because since the downturn in 2008 they’ve continued to grow and continued to expand and hire,” said Steve Shardonofsky, a lawyer with Seyfarth and Shaw, a Chicago law firm that typically represents the industry.

Yet, worker rights groups and some lawyers believe there are likely thousands of mistreated workers unaware of protections under wage laws, partly because oil and gas activity primarily takes place in rural areas.

“Oil field workers are traditionally non-union. They’re isolated in man camps and on their sites and it’s hard [for union organizers] to get to them,” said Alex Lotorto, union delegate for Industrial Workers of the World.

If you’re an oil and gas worker and your employer pays you a day rate, classifies you as an “independent contractor” or violates wage laws in other ways, help our reporting by writing in with your story to

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


Grassroots Resistance as ‘Police Militarization’ Expo Descends on Oakland

Published on Thursday, September 04, 2014 by Common Dreams

Sustained resistance in Ferguson, Missouri — in the face of riot police, and military service members, and war-grade weapons and vehicles — has forced the issue of police racism and militarization into the national and global spotlight.

As the summer closes on a note of outrage, forces driving police militarization — including defense contractors, law enforcement agencies, and SWAT teams from around the world — are converging in Oakland, California on September 4th through 8th for the 9th annual “Urban Shield” exercise and weapons technology expo that is bankrolled by arms manufacturers and the Department of Homeland Security.

They are being met with protests from grassroots organizations and local residents who say Urban Shield is not welcome in their city — or anywhere.

“People all over the world are watching the militarization of U.S. law enforcement and making the connections between militarization on the global level and local policing,” Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center told Common Dreams. “This is an opportunity for us here in Oakland to demonstrate how we stand against militarization.”

“Exact Opposite of Safety”

Coordinated by Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, Urban Shield is funded in part by the Urban Areas Security Initiative, which was founded by a grant from the Department of Homeland Security. The event has a long list of “partners” ranging from California law enforcement agencies to international bomb squads to oil corporations to defense contractors. However, the details of the “training” and arms trade slated to take place at the event, as well as a full list of funding sources, is not being fully disclosed, and public records requests from community organizations have gone unanswered. An internal memo(PDF) from Ahern’s office, obtained by the War Resisters League, finds that Urban Shield comes at a cost of at least $1.7 million to U.S. taxpayers.

While Urban Shield is billed as an event to bolster rapid response to disasters and terrorism, local residents have a different take. “Urban Shield gets sold to local communities as emergency preparedness, but the technology and weaponry being traded and the kinds of maneuvers they are doing are hyper-militarized and rooted in racism and fear mongering around terrorism, fueled by money from the Department of Homeland Security,” Rachel Herzing of prison abolition organization Critical Resistance — one of thenumerous organizations organizing the protests — said in an interview with Common Dreams.

According to Kiswani, Urban Shield’s use of the “terrorist” threat to justify this massive “militarized” gathering is “one way the targeting of Arabs and Muslims is used to justify the further criminalization of black and brown communities.”

The likely participation of repressive states — including Israel — has sparked concern among grassroots organizations. While Urban Shield has not disclosed the full list of participants for this year, organizers say that the past participation of numerous Israeli security agencies — including the Border Police Unit Yamam, which carries out extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinians — indicates that Israel is certain to play a role in this year’s gathering as well. Israel’s participation strikes an especially raw nerve for organizers given the state’s recent military assault on the besieged Gaza strip, as well as revelations that at least four law enforcement agencies deployed to Ferguson were trained by Israeli security forces.

Meanwhile, the event is spreading far beyond Oakland. Since Urban Shield was founded, it has expanded to other U.S. cities, including Boston, Dallas, and Austin.

“Urban Shield is the epitome of the militarization of the police happening on a national and global scale, and the main purpose of urban shield is for law enforcement agencies to come together to learn how to better repress and control our communities,” Mohamed Shehk of Critical Resistance told Common Dreams. “They do it under the guise of public safety, but these law enforcement agencies are exactly the thing that are causing a threat to our communities. They are the exact opposite of safety.”

Grassroots Push-Back

Urban Shield will be met on Friday with a rally and noise demonstration organized by the coalition Facing Urban Shield and carrying the message that Oakland is not a “testing ground for repression,” according to a statement from the War Resisters League. This follows a week of education and action in Oakland, organized by grassroots groups, aimed at informing local residents about the Urban Shield event happening in their back yards. The organizations participating in this coalition span a broad range of constituencies — from the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network to the Alliance of South Asians Taking Action to the  Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

The coalition has already achieved a major victory against an event that, just a few years ago, was virtually unknown to the public. Following a community campaign urging the Marriott Convention Center — which is owned by the city of Oakland and managed by Marriott — to cancel its contract with Urban Shield, organizers received confirmation from the Convention Center on Tuesday that the contract will not be renewed next year. Herzing says that the coalition was not given a clear reason why the deal was severed, or who drove the decision — in keeping with Urban Shield’s lack of transparency. But Herzing said she’s certain that community pressure played a critical role.

Oakland has long been the site of police brutality and local resistance. Just five years ago, the BART Police murder of unarmed 22-year-old African-American man Oscar Grant in Oakland touched off mass protests in the city. “I think it’s really insult to injury to host this thing in Oakland,” said Herzing. “Oakland has very long history of police violence and very militarized responses to black and brown communities here and also has very strong history of resistance.”

“We Aim to Dismantle Police Militarization”

Urban Shield comes amid the ongoing militarization of U.S. police, showcased in Ferguson and enabled by a patchwork of programs facilitating collaboration between police and law enforcement.

The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which was established in the 1990s, authorizes the Department of Defense to donate what it considers surplus military equipment to police and sheriff departments in the United States. Meanwhile, the 1122 program allows police to purchase military weapons deemed non-surplus at a reduced price for purposes of “counter-drug, homeland security and emergency response activities.” Since September 11, 2001, the federal government spent billions of dollars on grants to assist in the arming of local police departments with military-grade weaponry recycled from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the 2011 findings of the Center for Investigative Reporting.  As a result, combat equipment ranging from Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles to grenade launchers to automatic weapons are being used to patrol U.S. streets, enter homes, and crack down on protests — from Boston to Ferguson.

The influx of weapons has led to the heavy arming of paramilitary SWAT teams, which were used increasingly throughout the 1970s and exploded during the onset of the War on Drugs. They are now used for policing activities ranging from drug raids to delivery of warrants. A recent ACLU report found that, between 2011 and 2012, SWAT raids conducted by local, state, and federal police disproportionately target people of color.

A coalition press statement slammed the vast impacts of these programs, which include: “SWAT raids that disproportionately impact the Black community happening 100 times per day in the U.S. often under the banner of the War on Drugs; ICE raids that force immigrants into dehumanizing detention and deportation proceedings; and surveillance and infiltration of mosques and Leftist political organizations.”

Tara Tabassi of War Resisters League told Common Dreams via email, “We aim to dismantle all police militarization programs: Urban Shield, UASI, 1033, 1122 and Fusion Centers. Achieving that though, we would still be faced with the mentality of police militarization, domestically and globally. Occupation is not just about weapons, whether in Ferguson or Palestine. It exists because the present social order requires it, and that’s why we are seeing a movement growing — from Boston to the Bay — that gets to the roots of the problem by demanding community self-determination.”

Ferguson Protesters File Lawsuit Against Police for Civil Rights Violations

Published on Friday, August 29, 2014 by Common Dreams

by Nadia Prupis, staff writer

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri filed a $40 million federal lawsuit on Thursday alleging that police in the local and county departments violated civil rights and used excessive force to falsely arrest innocent bystanders in an attempt to crack down on the demonstrations that took place throughout the month.

The death of Michael Brown, a black teenager who was unarmed when he was shot to death by Officer Darren Wilson, who is white, sparked weeks of marches and demonstrations against police brutality and racism.

The five plaintiffs, including some who were not involved with the protests but encountered officers while eating out or walking home, said they were arrested violently, shot at with rubber bullets, and subjected to racial slurs.

“The police were completely out of control,” said attorney Malik Shabazz of Black Lawyers for Justice. “In those initial days, it was virtually a police riot.”

The lawsuit names Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar, Ferguson officer Justin Cosma, several unnamed officers collectively identified in the suit as “John Doe,” and the city and county governments.

Early days of the protests saw the police forces dressed in riot gear and shooting tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed protesters. After days of unrest, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon put the State Highway Patrol in charge of securing Ferguson, which initially helped ease tensions. But police brutality returned to the protests after St. Louis County police were allowed back on the ground shortly after state troopers took over operations.

Talking Points Memo writes:

Plaintiff Tracey White said she and her son, a high school junior, were waiting for a ride from her husband at a West Florissant Avenue McDonald’s after attending an Aug. 13 “peace and love” rally at a Ferguson church when several rifle-carrying officers told her she was being arrested because she would not “shut up.” White said she and her son were detained for five hours at the county jail on charges of failing to disperse, but she said she was not provided with any records reflecting that charge or a future court date.

“It was so horrifying,” she said. “We did nothing wrong.”

Dwayne Anton Matthews Jr. said he was confronted by eight officers that same night while walking to his mother’s home after the bus route he normally takes stopped short of his destination because of the unrest. The suit alleges that after Matthews was shot multiple times with rubber bullets, he fell into a creek or sewer, where police officers “pounced on him, slammed his face into the concrete and pushed his head under water to the point that he felt he was going to be drowned.”

Matthews, who styles his hair in long dreadlocks, told reporters at a Thursday press conference outside the St. Louis federal courthouse that he was called a “coon” and a “mophead,” among other racial slurs.

Hundreds were arrested in recent weeks, including protesters, reporters, lawyers, and community leaders. Wilson has not been arrested for Brown’s death.