On Wednesday night, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and The Huffington Post’s Ryan Reilly were arrested by police in Ferguson, Missouri while covering the civil unrest which has followed the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The reporters claim that they were given no reason for their detention, and the police have failed to provide anything to counter that narrative. Lowery also claims that he was physically abused during his detention process.
— Ryan J. Reilly (@ryanjreilly) August 14, 2014
A video uploaded to the internet by Lowery appears to back up his account:
After his release from police custody, Lowery penned an account of his ordeal for The Washington Post:
During this time, we asked the officers for badge numbers. We asked to speak to a supervising officer. We asked why we were being detained. We were told: trespassing in a McDonald’s.
Once at the station, we were processed, our pockets emptied. No mug shots. They removed our restraints and put us in a holding cell. Ryan was able to get ahold of his dad. I called my mom, but I couldn’t get through. I couldn’t remember any phone numbers.
We were in there for what felt like 10 or 15 minutes. Then the processing officer came in.
“Who’s media?” he asked.
We said we were. And the officer said we were both free to go. We asked to speak to a commanding officer. We asked to see an arrest report. No report, the officer told us, and no, they wouldn’t provide any names.
In an appearance on MSNBC after his release, Lowery also alleged that he was assaulted by police officers after he was accused of resisting arrest. He said as he adjusted a bag which was slung over his shoulder, police interpreted this as a sign of resistance, said “let’s take him,” and threw Lowery into a soda machine. They then took his possessions and put him in physical restraints.
This is not the only account of police taking action to ensure that the press, the only mechanism which can impose accountability on public servants in moments like these, knows that they are in just as much risk as are those engaging in rioting.
— Mark Joyella (@standupkid) August 14, 2014
With this, a story that was about a tragic shooting, the search for justice, and an angry population engaging in social unrest while police struggled to keep the peace is now a story about police mistreatment of the press. The media particularly enjoys covering the media, and they are perfectly justified in covering this story extensively and into the weekend. Even those who are predisposed to give those officers attempting to maintain order in Ferguson the benefit of the doubt have been disturbed by their behavior.
The police did not cover themselves in glory in this instance, and their actions deserve all the scrutiny they will receive in the coming days as the national media pours over every move they make.
“I understand the need to address looting and rioting, and quickly. I understand that law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to do that. But perhaps when a police force, which must work with local communities to be successful, has already shot an unarmed person thereby inflaming the emotions of said community, they should approach the policing in the immediate aftermath with an overabundance of caution,” Mary Katharine Ham wrote in a compelling and powerful post. “Using rioting as an excuse for police abuses is just as problematic as using the original shooting as an excuse for looting.”
No one should suggest the police’s response to civil unrest in Ferguson is an excuse for more turbulence, though some will. Those who want this situation to escalate and become an issue around the country now have their rallying cry. The officers who engaged in this heavy handed and apparently unprovoked attack on the press are responsible for that condition.