Nearly 40 news organizations have signed onto a letter condemning recent charges against two reporters who were arrested at a Ferguson, Missouri McDonalds a year ago while covering the protests that followed the police killing of Michael Brown.
The letter, drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, calls charges of trespassing and interfering with a police officer brought against Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly and Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery by St. Louis County police “astonishing.”
The fact that these journalists were kept from doing their jobs was troublesome enough. But the fact that your office – after having had time to reflect on police actions for a full year – has chosen to pursue criminal prosecution now is astonishing.
Lowery and Reilly were jailed briefly last year after police entered the McDonalds the two reporters were working at and demanded the pair identify themselves. Lowery’s account of the incident recalls an officer slamming him into a soda machine and setting off the Coke dispenser.
Earlier this month, almost a year later, both Lowery and Reilly were ordered to appear in St. Louis County Court. According to The Washington Post, both could be arrested if they do not appear.
Representatives from several major media organizations are signatories to the letter, including The Associated Press, Reuters, National Geographic, Hearst and The Wall Street Journal. They join The Huffington Post and The Washington Post, both of which have released statements condemning the charges. Last week, Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron told the paper he expected better judgement from the authorities.
“You’d have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident.”
Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief of The Huffington Post, was equally blunt.
“At least we know St. Louis County knows how to file charges,” Grim wrote. “If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”