Ferguson rioters harass, threaten reporters
By: Byron Tau
August 16, 2014 12:43 PM EDT
FERGUSON, Missouri — Reporters trying to cover the renewed chaos in this town faced a new threat on Friday: the demonstrators themselves.
Print, video and photo-journalists were all repeatedly and aggressively threatened and harassed when attempting to photograph or videotape any of the looting or property destruction. Many of the demonstrators expressed concern about being identified by police or told reporters that the looting was none of their concern.
Police largely remained on the sidelines on Friday and into the dawn hours of Saturday morning as demonstrators descended on a number of businesses in Ferguson — pulling alcohol, lottery tickets, and merchandise from the vandalized stores.
Reporters were repeatedly and forcefully told to move away, turn around, put down their cameras or simply to leave the area when trying to get close enough to film the scenes of destruction and theft. Most reporters on the scene were simply recording the events as they unfolded — making no effort to interfere or interview participants in the rioting.
Many of the looters carried molotov cocktails and wore bandanas over their faces to conceal their identity. Multiple reporters said demonstrators made repeated threats about being armed or returning with weapons — but no journalist on the scene that POLITICO spoke with reported seeing a weapon.
The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery reported on Twitter that one looter “just threatened to pull knife” on him and other reporter outside a liquor store that was being cleaned of inventory.
POLITICO tried to approach the same liquor store using an iPhone to record the mayhem when we were physically approached by a man who said: “Get that police s**t out of here. … This ain’t no show.”
In one instance, a masked demonstrator headed towards a beauty salon turned to a reporter for the International Business Times and told her to put the camera down and turn around. She did.
A crowd gathered near where local Fox 2 news reporter Elliott Davis and his news crew were set up — loudly and aggressively chanting “are you black?” over and over to the African-American reporter. When a Huffington Post reporter tried to approach them, she was also turned away.
The experience of being aggressively confronted and sometimes threatened over photographing and video-recording the riots was common enough that most reporters on scene huddled in small groups far away from the actual theft, vandalism and rioting.
Many veteran photographers wore helmets — fearful of being hit by flying objects or rubbery bullets. (Police did not fire rubber bullets, though the Associated Press reported that tear gas was briefly deployed.) Some reporters wore gas masks.
At least one print reporter removed the camera he was carrying from his neck and returned it to his car because of the harassment and intimidation. In other cases, print journalists were forced to repeatedly insist that their iPhones or other smartphones were not recording to demonstrations who confronted them.
It’s a marked change from earlier in the week, when it was police officers who demanded that the media stay out of the area of the protests.
Washington Post’s Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested earlier this week after video-recording the police despite orders not to. The official explanation for the arrest was trespassing but both were released without charges.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri won an agreement on Friday with county and state officials that both members of the public and journalists could film and document ongoing protests.
The agreement came just one day after the ACLU filed a lawsuit over the issue.