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Journalists Shouldn't Be Exempt from the Law

protesters gather in st louis after jason stockley acquittal

Suppose, gentle reader, that in the city where you live there is a trial taking place, one that has attracted considerable attention and is fraught with potential for unrest should the verdict not conform with the expectations of some of your fellow citizens. Now suppose further that when the verdict is handed down, those same citizens are indeed so displeased that they take to the streets to express their outrage.

But you, gentle reader, busy as you are with commitments to work and family, have not followed the story closely. Now aware of the controversy, you decide to attend a protest rally near your home, not so much to protest yourself but merely to be educated on the issues.

And now suppose that some of the gathered protesters are worked up into such a state that they vent their anger by breaking the windows of some of the local businesses. The police, many of whom are present on the perimeter, announce that violence will not be tolerated, and to that end they proclaim the gathering to be an unlawful assembly, directing all who wish to avoid arrest to leave the area.

You comfort yourself in the knowledge that you have not broken any windows or otherwise caused any harm, and you stick around to see how the police handle things, perhaps also to catch some interesting video on your cellphone. But when the police do swoop in, they fail to recognize you as the law-abiding citizen you are, and rather than send you on your way, they scoop you into the jug with all the hooligans whose conduct you sought to record.

When at last you have your day in court, you proclaim your innocence and even produce the video that shows you were nothing more than a curious onlooker when the lawbreaking started. What, then, gentle reader, should the justice system do with you?

You will find little comfort in this, but if the law were to be scrupulously followed, you would be found guilty of refusing to disperse from an unlawful assembly. This is an outrage, you say, as the video you shot proves you were but a bystander to the window breaking and other mischief that brought the law down on what had been a peaceful protest.

Today, dozens in the St. Louis area are becoming better informed on Missouri’s laws regarding unlawful assembly and failure to disperse, having been arrested last Sunday while protesting the Jason Stockley verdict. Among these is Mike Faulk, a reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who found police officers were unimpressed with his media credentials as they rounded him up along with 122 others when a protest in downtown St. Louis turned violent.