Ferguson Police Threaten, Restrain and Arrest Journalists, Is This A New Police State?

A police officer runs up to a video journalist and shouts, "Get the fuck out of here ... or you're getting shot with this."

A police officer runs up to a video journalist and shouts,
“Get the fuck out of here … or you’re getting shot with this.”

No. This cannot be happening. Journalists are like the Red Cross. We are the untouchables during violence. We walk right up to the volcano of war and peer inside. The word “PRESS” gives us a free pass in Afghanistan, Iraq, Ukraine, Beirut, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mexico. Journalists can take a war zone tour, the ultimate in adventure.

Oh sure we might get hit by a bullet if we pop our head up at the wrong time or kidnapped by radicals ready to auction us to the highest bidder or sucked into a mob and molested by a thousand hands. We know the risks…or I should say, we knew the risks. But until now the danger comes from the “other” not the “us.”

But in Ferguson the police shed the traditional well-known rules of journalism.  The police’s abuse of journalists became so bad that President Obama had to remind them that “media freedom is protected in the U.S.”

“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground.”

Instead night after night we see Ferguson police are using unchecked power to target journalists, using “intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and physical force.” And the targeting goes across the board.

  •  Al Jazeera journalists flee from their equipment after it is tear-gassed by police
  • Police roughed up and arrested Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery for “failing to exit a McDonald’s.”
  • Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post for “failing to exit a McDonalds.

Those were the first arrests, and the police state emerged before our eyes.

  • Getty photographer Scott Olson was arrested… and stuffed into the back of a police van for no apparent reason.
  • CNN’s Don Lemon was broadcasting live from one of the town’s designated protest areas when a police officer began shoving him in an attempt to physically force him to leave the area.
  • An Al Jazeera America TV crew had to abandon their equipment when police fired tear gas at them. After they ran, police walked over and dismantled the set-up, turning over the equipment.
  • Mustafa Hussein a local journalist from KARG Argus. Police have tried to keep him from reporting frequently.

Police have shouted at reporters, pointed “heavy weapons” at them and confined them to very limited areas. Reporters now have to abide by “military-law style curfews” and turn off camera lights. Officials have restricted the media to police-defined press areas approximately one mile from any action.

  •  CNN reporters in Ferguson apparently feel so physically threatened, either by police or protesters or both, that they emptied a local military surplus store of its helmets.
  • Chris Hayes, MSNBC host tweeted,

“If you walk about 100 feet from OK’d press area you find yourself lit up by a spotlight and a squad of police on hair-trigger.”

Hayes’ group filmed the protests, and the police told them,

 “Media do not pass us. You’re getting maced next time you pass us.”

The problem is so bad that the ACLU sued Ferguson to stop harassing reporters — and won.

On Thursday, the ACLU got a court agreement, signed by the city and the county and the Missouri Highway Patrol chief, stating:

“Ferguson, St. Louis County and the Superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol, Ronald Replogle.

“Parties acknowledge and agree that the media and members of the public have a right to record public events without abridgment unless it obstructs the activity or threatens the safety of others, or physically interferes with the ability of law enforcement officers to perform their duties.”

“Capt Johnson said walk away or be arrested. I started walking away. They followed and arrested us,”

You don’t arrest reporters just to stifle journalism — you do it to make a statement. Russia, China and Egypt have suppressed the media, but in the heart of the U.S.? Press freedom organizations have condemned the police in Ferguson. The Committee to Protect Journalists warned that authorities were curbing journalists’ “right to work freely on the streets of any American city.” Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press called the police actions “unwarranted” and “unthinkable.”

Egypt arrested three Al Jazeera journalists, including an Australian and a Canadian citizen and sentenced them to prison. The Iran police arrested the Washington Post Tehran bureau chief and his wife. Do we want to be like them?

When the police arrest journalists they are telling us that “basic order and public safety have broken down.” So what are they telling us when a police officer runs up to a video journalist and shouts,

“Get the fuck out of here … or you’re getting shot with this.”