Police Continue to Violate Press Freedom In Ferguson
With 11 journalists arrested thus far, Truthout.org investigative reporter Mike Ludwig describes how Ferguson police are using intimidation tactics against journalists
JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Six more journalists have been arrested in Ferguson since Monday, bringing the total number to 11. Here are some of their faces. This includes journalists from The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Sports Illustrated. Journalists are reporting being harassed by police, who say police are attempting to restrict their movement by corralling them into press zones.
Some examples of clashes involved in Al Jazeera America camera crew that could tear gassed. Look at this clip. You can actually see the reporters running away, and soon after, police officers come and smash their cameras.
Even CNN anchor Don Lemon got pushed by the police. Take a look at this clip.
POLICE OFFICER: Let’s go! Come on, let’s go!
DON LEMON, CNN JOURNALIST AND ANCHOR: Okay. So that’s what’s happening here. So people are here and they’re standing on the–you can see what’s happening. We’ve been standing here all day. They told us to come here. I can’t move. I’m not going to resist a police officer. So I’m being pushed back by the police officer. You can see this is exactly what the citizens have been dealing with. So we’re going to–can–.
POLICE OFFICER: Let’s move!
LEMON: Anyway. Now you see why people are so upset here, because we have been here all day. They moved us here and told us this is our location, and are doing the same thing to the people. So we’re on national television. So imagine what they’re doing to people when you don’t see it on national television, the people who don’t have a voice like we do. So that’s what these officers are up to here. The people here are feeling like they’re occupied on their streets. They’re intimidated by police officers. You’ve been standing somewhere all day, you’ve been exercising your right to protest. All of a sudden, someone shows up, they don’t like your standing on the street, the rules change, and then they move you. So you see the people here saying, hands up, don’t shoot, and I would imagine here in a moment you’ll probably see some people start to be taken in and get arrested.
DESVARIEUX: We are now joined by Mike Ludwig, who is actually in Ferguson, Missouri. He’s an investigative reporter for Truthout.org.
Thanks for joining us, Mike.
MIKE LUDWIG, REPORTER, TRUTHOUT.ORG: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: So, Mike, set the scene for us. Tell us what your interactions have been with the police. And how would you characterize the mood between police and journalists there?
LUDWIG: Well, last night started in the evening with a large march up and down West Florissant Avenue, where a majority of the confrontational protests have been. And the people in Ferguson are still, and understandably so, very angry at the police. And journalists are getting frustrated as well. The police had tried to make what people are calling a “media pen”. In other places where I’ve covered protests, police have gone so far as to call these things “media zones” and even “free speech zones”. It hasn’t worked. They haven’t been able to keep journalists in the pen. But it’s still been indicative of the kind of attitude they’re taking towards the press.
DESVARIEUX: But, Mike, police are saying it’s really for your safety, you know, to keep the press safe. What do you make that argument?
LUDWIG: I mean, it’s not necessarily a safe situation out there. Last night when I was reporting, I ran into tear gas, I heard live gunfire. I had to put Maalox in my eyes because of tear gas. And there might be arguments back and forth between the protesters and the police of who started that fight, but it definitely is putting journalists in harm’s way.
At the same time, it’s important that there’s reporters on the ground to make sure that police aren’t harming people. It’s important that we can watch the police as they interact with protesters to make sure that people’s First Amendment rights aren’t being violated, and by trying to corral journalists, is keeping us away from a lot of these small skirmishes between protesters and police.
The protesters are very angry. In general, my interaction with protesters is everyone’s been very polite, everybody wanting to talk to me about how they’re feeling, why they’re out there, how this has impacted their family. I did see some protesters get a little angry at the big news cameras from the national news outlets, but in general my interaction with protesters last night was nothing but pleasant. And I got a lot of great interviews.
My interaction with police was a lot different. When they got frustrated with me being in a location, they would tell me they were going to arrest me very quickly. They would come up behind me and tell me they were going to arrest me if I didn’t move fast enough. Even after the protests had dispersed, even when I was just getting in my car to drive away, a cop said, if you don’t get in that car fast enough, you’re going to jail, kid.
LUDWIG: And I had a press tag hanging around my neck. So my personal experience so far has been the protesters quite polite and ready to tell the world how they feel about the violence and the police harassment in their communities, and also about Michael Brown. The cops, they’re feeling tense, and they are often very rude, not just to protesters, but to people on the street and to journalists.
DESVARIEUX: Right. And we should point out that the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against St. Louis County, Ferguson, and [the] Highway Patrol superintendent, which were seeking to bar them from trying to prevent the news media and the public from recording law enforcement actions.
So, Mike, I want to turn and talk about–you mentioned the anger and the level of frustration that journalists are feeling. Do you feel like there’s more solidarity amongst journalists because of this interaction between police and reporters?
LUDWIG: The attitude on the street last night when I was talking to fellow journalists was pretty friendly. People were sharing information. When clashes went down, people were saying, well, I saw a bottle be thrown first, maybe the police were overreacting. It was generally I saw journalists being pretty polite to each other, especially independent journalists being pretty polite to each other.
But at the press conference early this morning, after last night’s protest, there were some journalists who were very concerned about the way that police were acting. I was personally very concerned towards the end of the protests and the small confrontations that did happen there with tear gas and bottles being thrown and things being dragged in the street. When the police finally decided to clear the area, they cleared all of the journalists out of the area, demanded that they be in the media pen. I’m assuming that when journalists got arrested last night it was after that order was made by the police: journalists that didn’t comply ended up going to jail. And that was, to me, quite dangerous, because we weren’t there to see the last sweep of the streets to make sure that cops weren’t brutalizing people and were respecting peoples rights to be on the street. They’re sending out orders where you could go to jail–they’re literally saying, if you are not moving, if you’re not walking while you’re on the sidewalk, you can go to jail, you could be–. I saw a man get yelled at by a cop for sitting and talking on his cell phone outside of the protest zone. And he was rudely yelled at by a cop and threatened with jail time for just standing. So if we are not allowed access to these points of conflict where protesters are interacting with police and people are getting arrested, it’s very difficult for us to hold them accountable for any abuses that they might perpetrate.
DESVARIEUX: Mike, we’re now hearing that there may have been another officer-involved shooting in St. Louis city. What do you know about that?
LUDWIG: Well, the only thing that’s coming through media channels right now is the cops’ side of the story, which is that this man was, quote, erratic and was holding a knife, and now he’s dead after being shot to death by the police. I’m hearing that people are starting to gather in Ferguson right now, and I’m about to head out there to start talking to people. And after last night, this has been ten days of protests. Everyone I talked to last night said it was very important for them to come out every single night. Whether these were confrontational protesters, peaceful protesters, they are passionate about this and they’re angry at the police for a variety of reasons, mostly over Michael Brown, but for a legacy of harassment they feel as people of color they’ve been subjected to in this part of the country. So with things not de-escalating but almost escalating as the police continue to militarize their presence and protesters continue to come out every night, I can only see this development as perhaps causing some more turmoil in the next few hours. And I’m literally about to head out there to start talking to people and see what their reactions are.
DESVARIEUX: Alright, Mike, we’ll let you go so you can head out there and hit the streets.
Mike Ludwig for Truthout.org.
Thank you so much for joining us.
LUDWIG: Thanks for having me.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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