News outlets and other organizations are strongly criticizing police in Ferguson, Mo., for arresting reporters and others covering the protests in suburban St. Louis this week.
This comes after Wesley Lowery, a reporter for The Washington Post, was arrested on Wednesday night along with Ryan J. Reilly, a reporter for the Huffington Post. Lowery and Reilly were at a McDonald’s restaurant in Ferguson when officers ordered them to leave before using force to restrain and cuff them; both reporters were taken to the police station and released without charges or any explanation.
The American Society of News Editors described the situation in Ferguson as “a concerted, top-down effort to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press” in a statement Thursday.
“From the beginning of this situation, the police have made conscious decisions to restrict information and images coming from Ferguson,” David Boardman, president of the association, said in the statement. “Of course, these efforts largely have been unsuccessful, as the nation and the world are still seeing for themselves the heinous actions of the police. For every reporter they arrest, every image they block, every citizen they censor, another will still write, photograph and speak.”
In a statement issued Wednesday night, Martin D. Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, said the organization was “appalled” at the way Lowery was treated by police.
“That behavior was wholly unwarranted and an assault on the freedom of the press to cover the news,” Baron said. “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. He was denied information about the names and badge numbers of those who arrested him.”
On Wednesday, the National Association of Black Journalists said it strongly condemned the arrests of Lowery, a member of the group, and Reilly.
“Journalists have a constitutionally protected right to work without the government interference,” Bob Butler, the association’s president, said in a statement. “We call on — and fully expect — the authorities to investigate what appears to be a violation of the First Amendment and to hold the officers involved to account, if necessary.”
Even before the arrests, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri had accused the police of infringing on the First amendment rights of protesters and the media. In particular, it critiqued the county police’s request to have the Federal Aviation Administration ban low-flying aircraft over Ferguson, which meant that news helicopters could not operate over the city.