During Protests Police Must Allow Journalists to do Their Jobs

The St. Louis Police Department has agreed to abide by tighter procedures to protect journalists from arrest while performing their jobs at scenes of protests. The procedures are better than the subjective and haphazard approach that led to the arrest of a Post-Dispatch reporter, among others, after the Sept. 15 verdict acquitting former Officer Jason Stockley of murder.

A special order from Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole states that police officers “will be reminded of the important role served by the press” and that officers should “do nothing that would interfere with any journalist’s ability to gather information and report it to the public, where a journalist has done nothing to violate the law.” Each officer will receive a monthly reminder about this order and will be required to acknowledge it.

That’s a big, positive step toward ensuring the public stays informed and journalists are not penalized simply for doing their jobs.

The order was prompted by mistreatment of working journalists during recent protests, particularly downtown on the night of Sept. 17 when officers executed a technique called “kettling” to corral protesters and facilitate their arrest. Caught inside the kettle were residents, bystanders and Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk, whose credentials were in clear view of arresting officers.

O’Toole issued his order shortly after U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry ruled Wednesday that the police had violated the constitutional rights of protesters and bystanders. Perry issued a set of procedures and restrictions that St. Louis police must abide by going forward. Her ruling made clear that some officers had attempted to deliver punishment on the streets against anyone caught in their corral, aggressively pepper-spraying restrained detainees and refusing to accept explanations from nonprotesters.

Neither her rebuke nor O’Toole’s directives should have been necessary, especially in the wake of negative national attention following the 2014 police-involved shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

At the same time, we’re not blind to the difficult job police have distinguishing violent protesters from nonviolent ones during protests when rock-throwing and vandalism are occurring.

A big challenge ahead for police is distinguishing who, within shifting crowds of onlookers and protesters, are journalists covering events as neutral observers and who might be protest sympathizers posing as reporters. Just because someone has a video camera or smartphone in video mode in the middle of a protest doesn’t automatically make him a journalist.

At the same time, people attempting to document what’s happening tend not to be the ones engaged in violence. We hope officers will err on the side of caution in the interest of keeping the public informed.

If police abide by O’Toole’s and Perry’s orders, they should not fear media coverage. They’ll be abiding by the law and honoring the Constitution instead of punishing people for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Source: http://www.stltoday.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-during-protests-police-must-allow-journalists-to-do-their/article_1b58931d-7d7f-5439-aa71-54577125af3b.html

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Filming Cops
Filming Cops 3373 posts

Filming Cops was started in 2010 as a conglomerative blogging service documenting police abuse. The aim isn’t to demonize the natural concept of security provision as such, but to highlight specific cases of State-monopolized police brutality that are otherwise ignored by traditional media outlets.

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