FERGUSON, Mo. (KMOV.com) – A report by PEN America cites more than 50 alleged incidents in which police violated the freedom of the press in Ferguson. The report included the arrests of journalists and threats made by police officers.
PEN America is a non-profit organization that focuses on journalism and literature. The organization is urging the Department of Justice to open an investigation into the multiple incidents.
At the height of the protests, police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Journalists claimed that they too were being targeted by police officers. Video footage shows heavily-armed officers pointing guns and making threats to non-violent protesters, including reporters and photographers. The report stated at least 21 journalists were arrested.
On August 13, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery video recorded a Ferguson police officer ordering him out of a McDonald’s restaurant where Lowery said he was charging his phone and responding to messages. Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan J. Reilly were arrested and jailed. However, neither was given paperwork or charged. St. Louis City Alderman Antonio French, who had been covering the protests on social media, was also arrested that night.
While most of the arrests occurred within two weeks of the shooting death of Michael Brown, journalists were still targeted two months later. Recently, freelance journalist Marry Moore was arrested in Ferguson while she covered protests for CNN.
Police, including St. Louis County Chief Jon Belmar, have told News 4 that sometimes it's difficult to differentiate journalists from protestors. However, the report says some reporters insist they were treated badly even though they identified themselves with valid media credentials.
One of the self-described journalists not listed in the report is Bassem Masri, who cussed out police and told them to leave. Even though Masri was arrested, he isn't listed as one of the journalists arrested in the PEN America report.
The report evidence suggests that "some police officers were deliberately trying to prevent the media from documenting the protests and the police response." It calls on the Department of Justice to open an investigation and create "new guidelines for U.S. police departments on respect for media freedoms during public demonstrations."
News 4 attempted to contact St. Louis Police Chief John Belmar, but a spokesman said he was not available. News 4 showed the report to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson, who declined to be interviewed but said both Ferguson and St. Louis County officers are receiving training by the Department of Justice on the rights of protesters and journalists.