Late yesterday evening, Twitter began to buzz with news that two reporters had been arrested by police in Ferguson, MO.
The situation in Ferguson has been extremely tense since an unarmed black teen named Michael Brown was shot and killed by police on Saturday afternoon.
Things got even worse yesterday, as SWAT teams were dispatched to a number of largely peaceful protests. Ryan Reilly, a reporter from Huffington Post, tweeted this photo early yesterday evening:
I counted 70+ SWAT officers. Guns trained on crowds. Insanity. pic.twitter.com/stev2G6v4b
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 13, 2014
Reilly and Washington Post journalist Wesley Lowery were regrouping and grabbing a bite to eat at a McDonald’s when a SWAT team arrived to clear out the restaurant.
According to Lowery, the SWAT team wasn’t happy with how the pair left:
Officers decided we weren't leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them.
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) August 14, 2014
After news of the arrests started to circulate on Twitter, Matt Pearce of the LA Times called Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson to investigate.
Pearce, who had actually been interviewed by both of the detained journalists earlier in the day, obviously wasn’t ready to hear that they had been arrested:
— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) August 14, 2014
Jackson told Pearce that the officer who arrested the journalists was, “probably somebody who didn’t know better,” and then contacted riot command to tell them to release the journalists.
But before we get out the pitchforks, let’s take a second to be reasonable.
Ferguson is a relatively small town that was just rocked by a major, racially-charged tragedy.
The vast majority of Ferguson’s police force and even the officers of the St. Louis Police Department (which has stepped in to help keep the peace), have little to no experience dealing with such a tense situation.
They are already walking on eggshells as it is (since the police are the main source of the public’s anger), so I don’t think we should be overly critical of this isolated incident, especially since the police chief immediately had the journalists released when he found out about it.
That being said, as a journalist myself, the situation in Ferguson is becoming more and more concerning to me.
In tense situations like this, real, unbiased quality journalism is more important than ever, so any story about journalists being arrested is alarming.
Also, I understand the FAA’s reasoning for closing down the airspace above Ferguson, but I’m not sure how justified it is.
They claim that they are closing the airspace because a police chopper was allegedly fired upon by small arms from the ground on 3 or 4 occasions. However, no other aircraft (ie. media choppers) ever reported being fired upon.
It makes sense that a few angry people in Ferguson would take some shots at a police chopper, but there is no reason for them to target media choppers and no evidence of anyone doing so.
Should we really be grounding media choppers, which have been integral to covering the massive protests in Ferguson, because someone took a few shots at a police helicopter?
I don’t claim to be an authority about any of this and I will readily admit that there is probably plenty of things I don’t know about the situation.
One thing I do know, however, is that limiting journalists’ ability to report on what’s going on in Ferguson is definitely not going to make matters any better.
Read the original story from Gawker here. To learn more about the actual incident that sparked this massive controversy continue reading below.
EDIT: After I published this story, I found another example of media being harassed by police in Ferguson: an Al-Jazeera news crew was tear-gassed by riot police last night, who swooped in immediately afterwards to dismantle their equipment.
EDIT: Video/pictures from the Al-Jazeera incident:
The two different stories of the incident…
Dorian Johnson is a friend of Brown who claims to have been with him during the incident. He said that he was walking home from a convenience store with Michael when an officer asked them to stop.
Johnson claims that when they continued to walk, the officer took out his weapon and then fired a shot. He talked to KMOV, a local news station in St. Louis, about what happened next.
“He (the officer) shot again and once my friend felt that shot, he turned around and put his hands in the air… He started to get down and the officer still approached with his weapon drawn and fired several more shots,”
he told KMOV.
In a press conference Sunday morning, the St. Louis Police Department confirmed that, “more than a couple of shots were fired.”
Police chief Jon Belmar also used the press conference to give the police department’s official version of the story.
He said that the officer (who still has yet to be named) encountered Brown and his friend while in his care and asked them to stop. He said that when the officer tried to exit his vehicle, Brown pushed him into his patrol car and attacked him.
According to Belmar’s account, one shot was fired in the car as the pair struggled. Then,
“The fight moved outside the squad car and Brown suffered fatal gunshot wounds about 35 feet from the vehicle.”
The FBI is conducting its own independent federal investigation into the incident.
Meanwhile, the computer hacking group Anonymous has promised to seek justice by hacking into the police network in order to monitor communications.
Yesterday, they released this audio of dispatch calls between Ferguson and St, Louis PD from the .
They also claimed to have ascertained the identity of the shooter, saying that they will release the name once they can confirm.