Arrests and Excessive Police Force Used Against Journalists in Ferguson, Missouri

Police in Ferguson, MO, arrest Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly (photo courtesy @HuffPostPol Twitter)
 
PEN Center USA is outraged by the arrests and tear-gassing of journalists in Ferguson, Missouri, this week. Media officials covering the story report being cleared from working areas and blocked from entering this suburb of St. Louis.
 
The protests stem from community anger over the death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African-American man who was shot by a police officer on August 9, 2014.
 
Journalists Ryan J. Reilly of Huffington Post and Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post were unjustifiably arrested on the evening of August 13, 2014, during a violent escalation of the protests.
 
While sitting in a McDonald's, where they were recharging their phones and laptops, Lowery and Reilly were told by police officers armed with high-powered weapons to clear the restaurant.
 
Reilly photographed the scene, and was subsequently asked to show his ID, a request to which he declined. Lowery was wearing his press badge around his neck. After receiving conflicting answers from police about which way to exit the building, Reilly fumbled to catch his slipping camera bag and was then slammed against a soda machine by police and arrested. Lowery was also arrested at this time. 
 
Though released a short time later, both Reilly and Lowery report that they were denied information and documentation about their arrests, including charges, officer names, and badge numbers. Reilly recalled today on Twitter that he was not read his Miranda rights.
 
Washington Post Executive Editor Martin D. Baron released this statement today regarding Lowery's release: 
 
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.
 
An Al-Jazeera America news crew abandons their equipment as police fire tear-gas and rubber bullets. (Photo courtesy Scott Olsen/Getty Images)
Ryan Grim, Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief also released a statement defending the journalists, adding, "Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom."
 
Additionally, an Al Jazeera America media crew reports being tear-gassed and shot at with rubber bullets by police while setting up equipment over a mile away from the center of the protest, despite having identified themselves as press.
 
Ferguson Police forces have since been removed from handling security responsibilities in the area.
 
President Obama, in his statement on the escalating protests this morning, remarked, “Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs. Now’s the time for healing. Now’s the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson."
 
PEN Center USA will keep a continued watch on the events as they unfold. In the meantime, we’d like you to share this information online and with your communities:
 
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Please inform us of any action you take, and of any responses you receive. Use #Ferguson, #PENTakeAction and @penusa when possible.

 

 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

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