Reporters roughed up, arrested in Ferguson
Two reporters were arrested at a McDonalds in Ferguson, MO last night, roughed up by police in riot gear, and jailed for several hours before being released with no charges filed.
Wesley Lowery, a Washington Post political reporter, and Ryan Reilly, a Huffington Post justice reporter, were arrested in a McDonalds shortly before 8 p.m. ET. Police entered the restaurant and told patrons there to leave, the reporters wrote on Twitter after their release. The police then asked Lowery and Reilly for their identification and, according to the reporters, arrested them because they weren't packing their bags fast enough.
Lowery also said the police officers "assaulted" him. "Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of," he wrote on Twitter. Lowery also said that he and Reilly were released without paperwork or charges, and that the officers refused to provide the reporters with their names.
Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, said late Wednesday night that “there was absolutely no justification for [Lowery's] arrest."
"He was illegally instructed to stop taking video of officers. Then he followed officers' instructions to leave a McDonald's — and after contradictory instructions on how to exit, he was slammed against a soda machine and then handcuffed," Baron said in a statement. "That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news. The physical risk to Wesley himself is obvious and outrageous."
"After being placed in a holding cell, he was released with no charges and no explanation," Baron continued. "He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him. We are relieved that Wesley is going to be OK. We are appalled by the conduct of police officers involved."
According to the Washington Post, both reporters were taken to a police car where a member of the clergy was also being held, and then transported to a holding cell at the Ferguson police station. The Ferguson police chief was reportedly alerted to their arrests by Matt Pearce, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Pearce tweeted that when he informed the police chief of the reporters' arrest, the chief answered "Oh God" and said the riot police were from St. Louis County and likely "didn't know any better."
About a half an hour after arriving at the holding cell, Lowery and Reilly were released without any charges filed, the Post reports.
Perception is everything and what one side believes is normal behavior may have struck the officers in a different way. But in this case, it appears that the police did not like being filmed:
Lowery also appeared on MSNBC shortly after Reilly and provided an account of the arrest.
"As I was packing my bag videotaping with one hand, he was angry I wasn’t moving fast enough or what not, I put my backpack on tried to walk out, from the corner I could see Ryan having the same type of interaction," Lowery said. "As I turned the corner I tried to ask him... 'Am I going to be able to move my car?' They didn’t want to answer that question. They directed me toward one door where I encountered another officer who directed me to another door, I said, 'Officers, where would you like me to go.’ As I turned to follow their instructions, my bag slipped off my shoulder. I said. 'Officers, I’m going to need to stop to adjust my bag, give me one second,’ at which point they said ‘Let’s take him,’ slammed me into the soda machine, grabbed my bag, grabbed my phone and put me in temporary restraints and took me outside."
Lowery said he was wearing his Washington Post credentials on his neck at the time of the arrest.
Lots of people are trying to tie the "militarization" of the police into this incident, but as disturbing as it is, the police are under enormous strain in that town and are likely to see anyone not wearing a uniform as the enemy. Their lives are on the line and they are constantly being provoked to overreact. When your natural instinct is to fight back when attacked, it takes enormous willpower to control that urge and remain in control.
The cops involved in this incident were wrong, they were off base, and they should be disciplined. But trying to make a larger point from this incident is a stretch.