August 20, 2014 2 Comments
First, it is just extraordinarly stupid that the police in Ferguson have repeatedly gone after members of the media. If they think that is somehow going to work in their favor, they are just morons. Maybe in Russia; not in America. More importantly, though, this tells us a lot about the mindset of police forces in Ferguson. And it’s not good. Vox’s Max Fisher:
That police in Ferguson are targeting journalists so openly and aggressively is an appalling affront to basic media freedoms, but it is far scarier for what it suggests about how the police treat everyone else — and should tell us much about why Ferguson’s residents are so fed up. When police in Ferguson are willing to rough up and arbitrarily arrest a Washington Post reporter just for being in a McDonald’s, you have to wonder how those police treat the local citizens, who don’t have the shield of a press pass…
The police crackdown on journalists in Ferguson has become so severe that President Obama, in public comments, had to remind police that media freedom is protected in the United States.
“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job and report to the American people what they see on the ground,” he said. This would be banal statement if uttered about China or Russia; that the American president had to say it about his own country is a staggering sign of how badly the situation has turned.
Meanwhile, conservatives are complaining that the media have “taken the side” of the protesters. Hey, wouldn’t you if you were getting gassed and arrested to? But it’s far more than that. Great post from Slate’s Josh Vorhees:
But missing from such handwringing about the reporters’ ostensible loss of objectivity is the fact that the media had left the sidelines long before Lowery and Reilly were handcuffed. The very reason that national reporters—including Slate’s Jamelle Bouie—packed their bags for Ferguson was to get answers. Answers to why a member of the Ferguson Police Department opened fire on an unarmed black teen in broad daylight. Answers to why city officials originally refused to identify the cop involved in the shooting or even say how many bullets he had fired. Answers to why police were responding to what originally were largely peaceful protests with military-grade riot gear.
In short, the media descended on Ferguson looking for the same thing that had led protesters to take to the streets: the truth. That’s the real reason the media is siding with the protestors: What the people in the streets of Ferguson want is the same thing the journalists were sent there to find.
Meanwhile, love this post from Yglesias on the lack of police accountability in all this:
Reasonable people can disagree about when, exactly, it’s appropriate for cops to fire tear gas into crowds. But there’s really no room for disagreement about when it’s reasonable for officers of the law to take off their badges and start policing anonymously.
There’s only one reason to do this: to evade accountability for your actions…
And what’s particularly shocking about this form of evasion is how shallow it is. I can’t identify the officers in that photograph. But the faces are clearly visible. The brass at the Ferguson Police Department, Saint Louis County Police Department, and Missouri Highway Patrol should be able to easily identify the two officers who are out improperly arresting photographers. By the same token, video taken at the Lowery and Reilly arrests should allow for the same to be done in that case.
Policing without a nametag can help you avoid accountability from the press or from citizens, but it can’t possibly help you avoid accountability from the bosses.
For that you have to count on an atmosphere of utter impunity. It’s a bet many cops operating in Ferguson are making, and it seems to be a winning bet…
But on another level, it would almost be nicer to hear that nobody in charge thinks there’s been any misconduct. After all, a lack of police misconduct would be an excellent reason for a lack of any disciplinary action. What we have is something much scarier. Impunity. The sense that misconduct will occur and even be acknowledged without punishment. Of course there are some limits to impunity. Shoot an unarmed teenager in broad daylight in front of witnesses, and there’ll be an investigation. But rough up a reporter in a McDonalds for no reason? Tear-gas an 8 year-old? Parade in front of the cameras with no badges on? No problem.
Again, it would be nice if people across the political spectrum could admit these are genuine problems. (They are!) If only the right-wing support of the police wasn’t so damn reflexive (hooray for libertarians, though, I am particularly loving Mike Munger’s FB feed). These are real problems that simply should not be existing in a healthy democracy, or at minimum should be seriously addressed rather than largely ignored. American can and absolutely should do better.