Journalists have been arrested without cause several times over the last few months while covering protests in St. Louis and press advocacy groups, including the National Press Photographers Association, have joined in asking the mayor to investigate these incidents.
A letter sent by the Committee to Protect Journalists that NPPA General Counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher helped draft, asks St. Louis mayor Lyda Krewson to examine cases where reporters were assaulted or arrested. If individual officers acted irresponsibly, they should be disciplined, and perhaps such an investigation would also result in increased training for police officers and clear, enforced policies on how to deal with the press during protests.
“The NPPA is extremely concerned that journalists are being interfered with, harassed and arrested by police for doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment right to cover matters of public concern,” Osterreicher said.
NPPA member Daniel Shular, along with fellow independent journalist Amina Ali, were arrested in St. Louis on Oct. 3. Shular displayed his accreditation, did not hear an order to disperse, and was never told he was under arrest or read a Miranda warning, according to his lawyer. He was detained for 18 hours.
“We are diligently working to investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding these unlawful actions by law enforcement to ensure that such incidents do not re-occur and to protect Mr. Shular’s constitutional rights,” Osterreicher said.
Data from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows that at least 10 journalists have been arrested covering protests in St. Louis over the past two months. The journalists say they were pepper-sprayed, cursed at and treated with excessive force by police officers. Journalists were arrested even if they identified themselves and showed press credentials.
A number of press advocacy groups joined in signing the letter that was copied to Lt. Col. Lawrence O’Toole, the St. Louis interim Chief of Police and the city counselor Julian Bush. In addition to NPPA, the groups include the American Society of News Editors, the Society of Environmental Journalists, NewsGuild-CWA, the Radio Television Digital News Association, Reporters Without Borders, Associated Press Media Editors, PEN America, the Student Press Law Center, Index on Censorship, The Media Consortium, the Columbia Journalism Review, MediaShift, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the Society of Professional Journalists, Free Press and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.