August 13, 2014

Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly said on Twitter Wednesday night that they’d been arrested and released while working in a McDonald’s. Both journalists were reporting on the scene in Ferguson, Missouri. Lowery had just filed a piece about the police in Ferguson, where police shot a young man named Michael Brown on Sunday night.

A person who answered the phone at the Ferguson Police Department Wednesday night said “There were several arrests made” at a McDonald’s but gave no further details.

Earlier tonight, when asked on Twitter who he feared more, protesters or police, Lowery replied: “easy answer, i’m a black man – the police.”

L.A. Times reporter Matt Pearce said on Twitter that when he informed Ferguson’s police chief what he knew about the reporters’ arrests, he replied, “Oh, God.”

Appearing on “The Rachel Maddow Show” Wednesday night after the arrest, Lowery said he and Reilly had been working in a McDonald’s when police entered. They instructed the reporters to leave, Lowery said. “As I tried to pack up my bag, I took out my phone to videorecord, which an officer took exception to,” he told Maddow.

Officers gave him conflicting instructions on which door to leave through, Lowery told Maddow. When his bag flipped over his shoulder on his way out, he said, he told the police he was going to pick it up. “They said, ‘Let’s take him,'” Lowery said, and then they slammed him into a soda machine.

There was “absolutely no justification” for Lowery’s arrest, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron told Poynter in a statement that continues:

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.​

Speaking to the Post’s Mark Berman, Lowery said he knew he was going to be fine. “But the thing is, so many people here in Ferguson don’t have as many Twitter followers as I have and don’t have Jeff Bezos or whoever to call and bail them out of jail.”

Here’s some video Lowery shot of police demanding they leave the McDonald’s:

Huffington Post D.C. bureau chief Ryan Grim told Poynter in a statement: “We are relieved Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery are safe, but we are disturbed by their arrest and assault.” The statement continues:

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.

Mike Cavender, the executive director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, urged Ferguson police to “work with journalists.” Reporters who’ve been covering the unrest there reported police have fired rubber bullets into crowds that included journalists.

Previously: Kristen Hare wrote about the St. Louis area’s uneasy relationship with race.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City…
Andrew Beaujon

More News

Back to News


Comments are closed.