In a tense, middle-of-the night press conference early Tuesday morning, Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson lectured members of the media about safety and implored them to assist law enforcement in calming tensions in the city.
After reporting that two individuals had been shot and several police officers injured during another night of protests in response to last week’s shooting of Michael Brown, Johnson showed members of the media items that law enforcement officials had confiscated during the previous night’s protests including a Molotov cocktail, fireworks that had been thrown into a crowd, and two guns. Johnson said the guns were confiscated from individuals who shot at an apartment complex from their vehicle, which was then stopped near the media staging area. He said journalists were swarming the car to snap pictures as officers were trying to secure the weapons, making the confrontation even more dangerous.
Johnson said that when the media is asked to relocate, it is for their own safety or to facilitate law enforcement operations.
“I’d ask you not to glamourize their activities,” Johnson said of the protesters who were bent on illegal activities and provoking confrontations with police. There were 31 arrests on Monday night along with several fires set by protesters around the city.
Johnson described the volatile situation on the ground. “You were out there. You saw the chaos. You saw the shootings. We had officers in the midst of gunfire. In the midst of gunfire! And I guarantee you that the officers’ wives and husbands and parents are calling them now,” an emotional Johnson said. “I stood there and heard on the radio the screams of the officers who were under gunfire. I got back to our SWAT vehicle and saw the gentleman laying in the back who had been shot. I saw a car pull up and drop a gentleman off who had been shot in the hand that was dazed walking down the street.” Capt. Johnson added, “We can’t have this. We do not want any citizen hurt. We do not want any officers hurt. But when you’re shooting at apartment complexes and children are laying in the bed in apartment complexes and bullets are flying through the air, the saying on the street is, ‘a bullet has no name.’ We do not want to lose another life in this community.”
While noting that no journalists had been arrested on Monday night, he said it’s sometimes difficult to identify members of the media. “In the midst of chaos, when officers are running around, we’re not sure who’s a journalist and who’s not. And yes, if I see somebody with a $50,000 camera on their shoulder, I’m pretty sure,” he said. “But some journalists are walking around and all you have is a cell phone because you’re from a small media outlet. Some of you may just have a camera around your neck.” He admitted that some journalists have been taken into custody, “But when we do take you into custody and we have found out that you are journalists, we have taken the proper action.”
Johnson said the first priority is to keep people safe. “And we are providing protection for journalists. We had a journalists in the midst of that gunfire. In the midst of that chaos. We provided protection for them. We took journalists back to their trucks.”
But Capt. Johnson warned that both the media and law enforcement were under particular scrutiny in Ferguson. “This nation is watching law enforcement and this nation is watching our media.” He begged the media to help law enforcement. “If we’re going to solve this, we’re going to have to do it together. We’re going to have to do it together. And I want you to think about that tonight. We’re going to have to do it together.”