The Troubling Treatment of Journalists During Ferguson Coverage

Law enforcement seems to be going out of its way to harass, detain, and arrest journalists covering events in Ferguson
Crime • Views: 32,885

The law enforcement response to the shooting death of Michael Brown at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson has been troubling in all aspects, but the local police (including Ferguson PD, St. Louis County Police, and other agencies) treatment of journalists is especially so.

Journalists are being harassed at every opportunity. They’ve been harassed while in private stores. They’ve been gassed/smoked out of their location shots by trigger-happy county police. They’ve been detained and arrested - all because they’re covering the events as they’re unfolding.

But remember, it’s the community that is engaging in violence. Right.

We cannot and should not ignore law enforcement’s excessive use of force, and singling out journalists for harassment and arrest.

This is hardly an isolated case in Ferguson.

In fact, there are an increasing and troubling number of incidents. Among the more notable:

Two journalists, including one from the WaPo, were taken from a McDonalds and arrested without charges. They were released shortly thereafter, once Captain Jackson of the Ferguson PD realized what happened.

There’s video showing an al Jazeera video crew being targeted by police with tear/smoke grenade and their equipment was shut down by county police.

Chris Hayes was targeted - and he tweeted that any journalists who stepped more than a few feet from the journalist enclave would be spot-lit and targeted by police with hair-triggers (even though the military trains soldiers not to aim weapons at anyone unless you’re ready to shoot that person, the county and local police department are purposefully aiming their weapons at anyone/everyone at the slightest provocation, which includes breathing, reporting, and protesting).

Additional journalists were arrested/detained.

Overnight, several journalists reported being detained, threatened or otherwise prevented from covering the unfolding story. The arrest late Sunday night of three reporters — Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated, Chicago-based Financial Times reporter Neil Munshi and Rob Crilly, a foreign correspondent for the Telegraph (and no stranger to war zones) — reportedly came as the journalists attempted to gather more information while police faced off with protesters.

They were ordered arrested by Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, who has been serving as a critical bridge between the Ferguson community and law enforcement.

Klemko claims that they had followed all the police instructions, and they were released shortly thereafter.

But this shows that the police, even Capt. Johnson, are pushing the boundaries on proper law enforcement.

There’s also the account of Pearl Gable of the NY Daily News who was also handcuffed and harassed.

When the cop was satisfied I was a newspaper photographer doing my job, he gave me back my belongings.

He asked, “Who do you work for?”

I said, “The New York Daily News.”

“Welcome to St. Louis,” he said before letting me go.

And not without a hint of irony. Now imagine being a Ferguson resident who has to deal with these officers on a daily basis.

Note too that President Obama has warned law enforcement not to bully or harass journalists:

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground,”

Many of the aforementioned incidents came after that warning.

UPDATE at 8/18/14 4:54:36 pm by lawhawk

You’d think that the Ferguson PD and other local law enforcement would realize just how bad the crackdown on journalists would look. You’d be wrong.

They’re still at it this afternoon. They’ve arrested and detained numerous journalists, including Getty photographers and even CNN reporter Don Lemon, who was live on television while police harassed him until they found another person to go after.

UPDATE at 8/19/14 7:18:43 am by lawhawk

Smell the schadenfreude. Last night, Breitbart reporter Kerry Picket was among a number of journalists who were arrested/detained by police (all typos in the report are courtesy of Breitbart):

Breitbart News reporter Kerry Picket was arrested late Monday afternoon by a Missouri State Trooper and released several hours later with an apology from the arresting officer and his lieutenant.
The State Trooper initially said that Breitbart News, a credentialed media outlet, could not walk directly to a media staging area on West Florissant Avenue and would have to take a detour.

However, a detour did not exist for pedestrians. As Picket began to walk toward the staging being blocked by the Trooper, she was handcuffed with plastic-ties, with my hands behind her back and told to get on her knees.

Picket was later searched and had to give up my belongings from her person. Picket was hauled off in a St. Louis County Police Truck and was on the verge of being booked.

Picket was released when it was discovered that the trooper misunderstood directions from his superiors and was told to not allow vehicle traffic through but to allow foot traffic through. Both the arresting officer and his lieutenant apologized to Picket, who was then released.

So, let’s break this down to component parts.

A credentialed journalist (from Breitbart) tries to cover the report and follows directions provided to the media pool by law enforcement so as to avoid being arrested or caught up in law enforcement sweeps.

Officers don’t follow the very directions that were given to journalists, and arrest/detain the reporter.

Only after a couple of hours, the reporter was released with apologies.

Let that sink in.

You’ve got a police force (comprised of multiple units from multiple departments) engaging in policing a civil disturbance, and they’re not even consistent on what they’re doing. They’re arresting reporters who are complying with the law enforcement rules, which are already onerous, all while continuing to crack down violently on protesters some of whom are coming from outside Ferguson like moths to the flame to pour gasoline on an already volatile situation.

If the police can’t even get this part right, now imagine what the community thinks of a police investigation into one of their own killing an unarmed black guy. If you were wondering why the violence keeps getting ratcheted up every time the county police come calling with their armored vehicles, there you go.

This is a police force that is out of control, and can’t even follow the rules that they initiated.

So, when you wonder why there’s a curfew, pre-curfew, double-secret curfew, and no one knows what’s going on or why the police are running through the streets with their armored vehicles to disrupt the protests, there you go.

It’s a clusterfuck, courtesy of an out-of-control police force.

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