Last night, the Intercept’s Ryan Devereaux and Lukas Hermsmeier, a reporter for the German newspaper Bild, were among those arrested (or detained, as authorities are calling it) during the escalating protests over Michael Brown’s shooting in Ferguson, MO. Getty Images photographer Scott Olsen was also taken into custody. A few days earlier, the Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery were also arrested in Ferguson. No charges have been brought against any of the journalists, but the pretext for all four arrests appears to be a “failure to disperse” quickly enough.
Each reporter was subsequently released, but it’s deeply disturbing that, in the United States in 2014, journalists are facing intimidation and threats from authorities for, from all reports, merely doing their constitutionally-protected jobs. I understand that, particularly on nights like last night when live ammunition was reportedly fired leaving an unidentified man in critical condition, certain areas must be secured for the safety of citizens. But arresting and intimidating journalists, who have a right to report on the events unfolding on the ground, doesn’t make anybody safer.
Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol told the Washington Post, “We may take some of you into custody, but when we do take you into custody and we have found out that you are journalists we have taken the proper action.”
So then why were Devereaux and Hermsmeier not released until this morning even though, according to Intercept editor-in-chief John Cook, the pair had yelled, “Press! Press!” upon being apprehended by police?
Cook makes another valid point which is that, if Devereaux and Hermsmeier weren’t breaking any laws (and, again, they were released without charge), why were they arrested, regardless of whether the police knew they were journalists or not?
Arrests, rubber bullets, and tear gas are among the worst journalists have had to face at the hands of police – many taking to wearing gas masks and bulletproof vests while on duty – but reports of smaller, yet still disturbing, forms of intimidation have been rampant as well.
Last night on VICE’s livestream from Ferguson, I watched as reporter Tim Pool was berated by a cop for not having the proper press pass, which had fallen off while Pool was attempting to reach safety in the wake of what he thought, and what seems to be later confirmed, to be gunshots. Although he was with a team of journalists with apparently acceptable press credentials who vouched for him, Pool was forced to – in as polite terms as I can imagine he could muster in this moment – argue with the officer to let him into the designated press area.
Situations like Ferguson, where policemen with military gear and weaponry have been accused of using excessive force, beg for the journalists to have the ability to do their jobs unhampered, giving the public a critical view into what’s really going on. And so the fact that each night brings more reports of press intimidation is all the more troubling.
Somebody should really pass a Constitutional amendment protecting these rights. Oh wait.