Two reporters were arrested at a McDonald’s last night in Ferguson, Mo., while filing their stories of the day’s protests and police action, leading to charges that authorities are violating the First Amendment rights of journalists on the scene.
Huffington Post Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim said Justice Department reporter Ryan Reilly was working on his laptop in the restaurant “when police barged in, armed with high-powered weapons, and began clearing the restaurant.”
“Ryan photographed the intrusion, and police demanded his ID in response. Ryan, as is his right, declined to provide it. He proceeded to pack up his belongings, but was subsequently arrested for not packing up fast enough. Both Ryan and Wesley were assaulted,” Grim said in the statement.
“Compared to some others who have come into contact with the police department, they came out relatively unscathed, but that in no way excuses the false arrest or the militant aggression toward these journalists. Ryan, who has reported multiple times from Guantanamo Bay, said that the police resembled soldiers more than officers, and treated those inside the McDonald’s as ‘enemy combatants.’ Police militarization has been among the most consequential and unnoticed developments of our time, and it is now beginning to affect press freedom.”
The other reporter arrested, Wesley Lowrey of the Washington Post, posted his account and video on the paper’s website.
The McDonald’s, Lowrey explained, is located a few blocks from where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by police over the weekend, sparking the current unrest. Reporters have used the restaurant for its food, WiFi, and outlets to recharge phones and other equipment.
Wrote Lowrey of the encounter with the officers who came into the restaurant:
I was wearing my lanyard, but Ryan asked why he had to show his ID. They didn’t press the point, but one added that if we called 911, no one would answer.
Then they walked away.
Moments later, the police reemerged, telling us that we had to leave. I pulled my phone out and began recording video.
An officer with a large weapon came up to me and said, “Stop recording.”
I said, “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?”
He backed off but told me to hurry up. So I gathered my notebook and pens with one hand while recording him with the other hand.
As I exited, I saw Ryan to my left, having a similar argument with two officers. I recorded him, too, and that angered the officer. As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.
One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.
“Go another way,” he said.
As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”
Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.
“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.
As they took me into custody, the officers slammed me into a soda machine, at one point setting off the Coke dispenser. They put plastic cuffs on me, then they led me out the door.
I could see Ryan still talking to an officer. I said: “Ryan, tweet that they’re arresting me, tweet that they’re arresting me.”
He didn’t have an opportunity, because he was arrested as well.
When they were released at the station after about 15 minutes in a holding cell, Lowrey said they asked for and were denied the opportunity to speak to a commanding officer. “The chief thought he was doing you two a favor,” they were reportedly told.
Reilly later wrote that their apparent “crime” was “not packing up our gear quickly enough after a heavily armed SWAT team shut down the McDonald’s where we were working.”
“A Saint Louis County police officer in full riot gear, who refused to identify himself despite my repeated requests, purposefully banged my head against the window on the way out and sarcastically apologized,” Reilly wrote. “I’m fine. But if this is the way these officers treat a white reporter working on a laptop who moved a little too slowly for their liking, I can’t imagine how horribly they treat others.”
“And if anyone thinks that the militarization of our police force isn’t a huge issue in this country, I’ve got a story to tell you.”