Media organizations to police in Ferguson: ‘We are appalled’

A protester runs through smoke deployed by police Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Protests in the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death turned violent Wednesday night, with people lobbing Molotov cocktails at police who responded with smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowd. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A protester runs through smoke deployed by police Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, in Ferguson, Mo. Protests in the St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death turned violent Wednesday night, with people lobbing Molotov cocktails at police who responded with smoke bombs and tear gas to disperse the crowd. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

“In a time of technology and terrorism, citizens and visual journalists throughout the world have risked and in some cases given their lives to provide visual proof of governmental activities,” Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Photographers Press Association, wrote in a letter to the chief of police in Ferguson, Missouri, on Thursday. “Sadly, what is viewed as heroic abroad is often considered as suspect at home.”

The arrest of two reporters Wednesday night in Ferguson and the treatment of other journalists there prompted letters and statements from several organizations. Here’s Osterreicher’s full letter:

Ferguson PD Letter 08-14-14

Al Jazeera President Kate O’Brian also released a statement on Thursday after a TV crew was tear gassed. (Here’s the raw video from KSDK.)

“Last night at 10:30pm CD in Ferguson, Missouri, an Al Jazeera America news crew was reporting behind police barricades. They were easily identifiable as a working television crew. As they were setting up their camera for a live report, tear gas canisters landed in their proximity and police fired rubber bullets in their direction. Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted ”Press.”

Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story. Thankfully all three crew members are physically fine.

We believe that this situation must be investigated along with those involving our colleagues at other media outlets.”

From ASNE:

Columbia, Missouri (Aug. 14, 2014) — As an organization whose core mission includes protecting freedom of the press, the American Society of News Editors is especially disturbed by the events taking place this week in Ferguson, Missouri. From police physically assaulting citizens engaged in peaceful protest to arresting without cause reporters from The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, it is clear that there is a concerted, top-down effort to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.

“From the beginning of this situation, the police have made conscious decisions to restrict information and images coming from Ferguson,” said ASNE President David Boardman. “Of course, these efforts largely have been unsuccessful, as the nation and the world are still seeing for themselves the heinous actions of the police. For every reporter they arrest, every image they block, every citizen they censor, another will still write, photograph and speak.”

ASNE acknowledges that there has been illegal violence and looting by some members of the public and that law enforcement must respond appropriately. But we remind the police and the nation that speaking out in protest is not a crime, reporting on that protest is not a crime and taking photographs of it is not a crime. Violating the civil rights of citizens by restricting these activities is a crime. We further call on the U.S. Department of Justice to take any and all appropriate action to protect the First Amendment rights of everyone involved.

From Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press:

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has issued the following statement in response to the arrest of two journalists covering the protests in Ferguson, Mo., Wednesday night: “The unwarranted arrest of reporters from The Washington Post and Huffington Post in Ferguson, Mo., last night is outrageous and unacceptable in a nation that cherishes a free press,” said Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Executive Director Bruce D. Brown. “The right to record and report on police activities is a First Amendment right – and one essential to the journalist’s role as a watchdog and guardian of public accountability for law enforcement and other public officials. That it should be so disregarded, particularly after the journalists identified themselves as members of the press, is almost unthinkable – yet it happened, and happened quite violently according to news reports,” Brown said. “In the coming days, the Reporters Committee and myriad news organizations will be calling on officials in Ferguson for some answers as to how this incident was allowed to happen. The right of the press to freely record and report on the activities of police as this situations continues to unfold must be respected by the town of Ferguson.”

RTDNA added a second statement on its site on Thursday. On Wednesday, I wrote about its first statement and how the press had been treated up to that point.

Despite a call from RTDNA for authorities to recognize the rights of journalists working to cover the events in Ferguson, Missouri, at least two reporters were arrested by police Wednesday evening while doing their jobs. Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowry says he was slammed into a soda machine, handcuffed and arrested, only to be released later when Ferguson’s police chief sent orders. The Huffington Posts’s Ryan J. Reilly says the officer arresting him slammed his head against the glass at the restaurant near the site of the shooting of Michael Brown where he was filing a story. RTDNA condemns the physical violence and unjustified arrest of the journalists, and demands authorities respect the rights of reporters covering the unfolding situation in Missouri.

On Wednesday night, my colleague, Andrew Beaujon, got the following statements from The Huffington Post and The Washington Post about the arrests of reporters Ryan J. Reilly and Wesley Lowery.

From Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim, Washington, D.C. Bureau Chief:

We are relieved Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery are safe, but we are disturbed by their arrest and assault.

Ryan was working on his laptop in a McDonald’s near the protests in Ferguson, MO, when police barged in, armed with high-powered weapons, and began clearing the restaurant. Ryan photographed the intrusion, and police demanded his ID in response. Ryan, as is his right, declined to provide it. He proceeded to pack up his belongings, but was subsequently arrested for not packing up fast enough. Both Ryan and Wesley were assaulted.

Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists. Ryan, who has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay, said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald’s as “enemy combatants.” Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom.

And from Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post:

Wesley has briefed us on what occurred, and there was absolutely no justification for his arrest.

He was illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers. Then he followed officers’ instructions to leave a McDonald’s — and after contradictory instructions on how to exit, he was slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed. That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous.

After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him.

We are relieved that Wesley is going to be OK. We are appalled by the conduct of police officers involved.​

Here’s my growing Twitter list of journalists covering what’s happening in Ferguson.

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  • Tony Loro

    The cop touched the hood of the car get his prints.