EDITORIAL: Mistreated journalists in Ferguson a cause for concern

Editorial Staff

For the past week, our nation has watched fixedly as the people of Ferguson, Missouri, have protested and rioted over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by police.

There are many elements that play into the tensions between the citizens and police force of Ferguson, and opinion is divided as to whether the heavily militarized police are simply doing what’s necessary for proper crowd control or if their tremendous presence escalated peaceful protests into full-blown riots.

Regardless of your opinion on the situation, we wouldn’t have nearly as many facts to base our judgments on if not for the courageous journalists on the scene, putting themselves in harm’s way daily to shed light on the story for the rest of us. These people are there to objectively report the facts, whether those facts are damning of excessive police action or citizens looting their own communities. That’s what makes the treatment of journalists in Ferguson by the police over the past week so disturbing.

It’s not surprising that police don’t want to be recorded doing their jobs during tense situations, but in an age where videos of police using excessive force go viral almost daily, it’s necessary to provide checks and balances to those assigned to serve and protect. In the past week, reporters on the ground in Ferguson have been harassed, gassed, assaulted and arrested.

Journalists from Al-Jazeera being attacked by state authorities is never surprising—much of their reporting comes from the Middle East, where the press is not nearly as protected as it is here. But in Ferguson last week, a camera crew for Al-Jazeera America was targeted and tear-gassed by police. When they scattered from the gas, which activates enormous numbers of pain receptors in the eyes and makes breathing a struggle, the police took it upon themselves to dismantle the crew’s camera equipment.

A video live-streamed by a reporter for one of the independent media outlets on the ground, volunteer-run KARG Argus Radio, picked up an officer’s shouted commands to cameraman Mustafa Hussein: “Get the f— out of here and get that light off, or you’re getting shot with this!” Hussein claims the officer had his gun drawn and pointed directly at his face. According to the Washington Post, Hussein “did not appear to be directly blocking police activity.”

VICE’s Alice Speri posted this Tweet after being threatened for her photojournalism: “Officer literally just asked me if I want to get shot (for taking a photo of all things…)”

In a nearby McDonalds, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were “assaulted and arrested,” according to Lowery’s Twitter account, because “officers decided we weren’t leaving McDonalds quickly enough, shouldn’t have been taping them.” No charges were filed (as they did nothing illegal) and they were freed from jail shortly thereafter.
These are only a few accounts of journalists being harassed by police in Ferguson for doing their jobs. Even MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Tweeted that a police officer threatened him with mace.

This crackdown on the press shouldn’t only be concerning to journalists and members of the media; well-informed citizens are essential to a functioning democracy. We rely on a free press to keep us informed. If any of these detained journalists had committed a crime, they’d have been charged as such. As it is, police seem to simply be relying on a catch-and-release method to keep reporters off the streets.