DURHAM, NC (August 14, 2014) – Today the National Press Photographers Association sent a strong letter of protest to the Ferguson, MO, chief of police regarding the unwarranted arrest and detention of journalists who are covering the town's unfolding national story, as well as the department's "complete lack of understanding and respect for the First Amendment."
In a letter to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson, NPPA's legal counsel Mickey H. Osterreicher wrote, "In any free country the balance between providing police protection with integrity and over-zealous enforcement is delicate. It is one thing for officers to act when there is reasonable suspicion; it is quite another to abuse that discretion by chilling free speech and creating a climate of fear and distrust under the pretext of safety and security."
The letter follows a fifth night of unrest, protest, violence, and stand-offs with police in Ferguson after cops shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown, 18, who was walking from a convenience store last Saturday with a friend.
"In a time of technology and terrorism, citizens and visual journalists throughout the world have risked and in some cases given their lives to provide visual proof of governmental activities. Sadly, what is viewed as heroic abroad is often considered as suspect at home. It is therefore incumbent upon you as the chief of the Ferguson Police Department to lead by example regarding the rights of the press and the public and I encourage you to affirmatively acknowledge those rights immediately.
"While it is understandable that your officers may have a heightened sense of awareness during these encounters that is still no excuse for them to not recognize a person’s (citizen or journalist) right to photograph or record an event occurring in a public place. Law enforcement agencies are established to uphold and enforce existing laws not to create pretexts in order to abridge the free speech/press rights of others."
Ferguson police had detained and arrested journalists Ryan Reilly and Wesley Lowery without cause as the two attempted to report on police activities around the protests. In addition, television news crews reported they were targeted by police and hit with bean bags and tear gas.