This week, the press celebrated a small victory as charges which were initially brought against two reporters for the Washington Post and the Huffington Post by Missouri’s St. Louis County, during the Ferguson protests in 2014 were dropped.
Both outlets wrote about the dropped charges and the incident that caused them. In the article by the Washington Post, the writer wrote about a collection of responses from the journalism community documented since their arrest, the charges, and a lawsuit that was brought against them — which includes the out-of-the-blue lawsuit drummed up by county prosecutors — a few years after the incident, and despite the rights of the press.
“The decision to drop these charges further confirms what we’ve said all along: We were two journalists doing our jobs who never should have been detained, much less charged. I sincerely hope St. Louis County prosecutors apply their newfound wisdom broadly and cease prosecution of the dozens of others, journalists and otherwise, who still face charges for lawful expression of their First Amendment rights during the unrest in Ferguson.”
During the protests and riots, Ferguson became a very popular spot with the press and bloggers who hadn’t earned their journalistic credentials, along with regular people, documenting footage with their smart phones.
This is where it might have been difficult for law enforcement to determine the difference between a legitimate reporter and anyone else when these reporters were being pulled out of the McDonald’s by force.
Clearly, it didn’t matter to them because the officers saw it as an opportunity to crackdown on people where they could, testing the limits of enforcement, in the event that no one reacts to it.
But they went further by making arrests, which they followed with lawsuits against the reporters, which only added fuel to the fire.
In the video provided by CNN, Mayor James Knowles acted as if the CNN reporter was wasting his time and thus not realizing the importance of the press, and that he was answering to that community for their grievances.
Eventually, the authorities said sending that lawsuit to the reporters/journalists was a mistake; but even that doesn’t help to convince us that it wasn’t somehow an attempt at Ferguson’s authoritarian approach against the people, a view that is common in how many people see the police in general.
It certainly doesn’t make them look good.
One also has to wonder, at this point, in cases where law enforcement lashes out in such a way — through the law or a manipulation of it — if there is a consistent will to empower the police against regular people as a self-proclamation of their power, where they almost act as rogue agents?
It certainly looks that way.
For instance, ABC News is one of the sources that covered a story about a Reading, Pennsylvania, police officer named Jesus Santiago-DeJesus, who recently turned himself in and was arraigned for official oppression and evidence tampering, after smashing a motorist’s cell-phone and punching her in the face.
Charges were dropped against the motorist by the county, but the officer’s attorney blamed the motorist for his reactions, which feeds to a point-of-view many officers and their supporters have, which is that: were it not for the motorist resisting, the officer would not have reacted as he did and which appears to provide a legitimacy to his actions, as if to say they were fine.
In the video at the beginning of this post, the reporter says that they were following the officer’s conflicted orders and were were still trying to cooperate.
Being that this is likely the case, it was unavoidable that the reporters/journalists would end up getting arrested, as they’re determined to get the story and are supposed to be stubborn about it.
And with this resolve, they clashed with police officers who were also as determined to clear the fast-food restaurant out, no matter what.
The more these charges are dropped in cases such as these, the more we can believe that regular order is being restored where the rights of the press can overpower the will of an oppressive crackdown. Justice can expose the brutality from an officer on a citizen, and a rogue agent police officer who tries to oppress with the protections a badge provides them.
And that can only be the abuse of power.