Pres. Obama, Gov. Nixon support journalists in Ferguson

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Leaders say reporters should be free to work

UPDATE: Adds statement from Attorney General Eric Holder below.

Both President Barack Obama and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon made statements Thursday, supporting the work of journalists covering the events in Ferguson, Missouri. At a news conference, the President said, “Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.” Earlier, USA Today reported Governor Nixon said, "If people have things to say, they ought to be able to say them, and if people in the news media want to cover stuff and take pictures, they ought to do it. We live in a free country." RTDNA Executive Director Mike Cavender again emphasized the need for police to respect working journalists, in an interview with CBSNews.com.

Meanwhile, press restrictions increased Thursday afternoon when the Federal Aviation Administration, for a second time, imposed flight restrictions in a three-mile radius around Ferguson, through the weekend. The restriction was requested by the St. Louis County Police to provide "a safe environment for law enforcement activities." No aircraft are being allowed below 3000 feet, which effectively eliminates the ability of news helicopters to observe police and protester activity in the area. The restrictions are scheduled to be lifted at 3:00 pm local time on Monday but could be reinstated if the police make an additional request.

Whether the restrictions will remain in place for long may be in doubt, as several media outlets are reporting Governor Nixon may remove the St. Louis Country Police Department from its leading role in the situation. As The Wire and others are reporting, the Governor stopped short of saying he would remove the department, but did say an "operational shift" was expected soon.

Concerns about the treatment of journalists grew Wednesday evening, when TV crews, including local stations and Al Jazeera reported being tear gassed. Video of the tear gas attack on the Al Jazeera crew was posted by St. Louis television station KSDK.



Also on Wednesday evening, Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly were arrested by police while covering protests and the police response. RTDNA issued a letter to the Ferguson police chief, condemning the treatment of the journalists. Lowery videotaped the officer who later arrested him:



On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder released a statement:

 
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                   AG
THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, 2014                                                                            (202) 514-2007

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STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER ON LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN FERGUSON, MISSOURI

 

WASHINGTONAttorney General Eric Holder released the following statement Thursday following his meeting earlier today with President Obama to discuss the latest developments in Ferguson, Missouri:
“This morning, I met with President Obama to discuss the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Like the President, I extend my heartfelt condolences to the family of Michael Brown.  While his death has understandably caused heartache within the community, it is clear that the scenes playing out in the streets of Ferguson over the last several nights cannot continue.
 
“For one thing, while the vast majority of protests have been peaceful, acts of violence by members of the public cannot be condoned. Looting and willful efforts to antagonize law enforcement officers who are genuinely trying to protect the public do nothing to remember the young man who has died. Such conduct is unacceptable and must be unequivocally condemned.
 
“By the same token, the law enforcement response to these demonstrations must seek to reduce tensions, not heighten them. Those who peacefully gather to express sympathy for the family of Michael Brown must have their rights respected at all times. And journalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.
 
“At a time when we must seek to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the local community, I am deeply concerned that the deployment of military equipment and vehicles sends a conflicting message. At my direction, Department officials have conveyed these concerns to local authorities. Also at my direction, the Department is offering – through our COPS office and Office of Justice Programs – technical assistance to local authorities in order to help conduct crowd control and maintain public safety without relying on unnecessarily extreme displays of force. The local authorities in Missouri have accepted this offer of assistance as of this afternoon.
 
“Department officials from the Community Relations Service are also on the ground in Missouri to help convene law enforcement officials and civic and faith leaders to plot out steps to reduce tensions in the community. The latest such meeting was convened in Ferguson as recently as this morning. Over time, these conversations should consider the role that increased diversity in law enforcement can play in helping to build trust within communities.
 
“All the while, the federal civil rights investigation into the shooting incident itself continues, in parallel with the local investigation into state law violations. Our investigators from the Civil Rights Division and U.S. attorney’s office in Missouri have already conducted interviews with eyewitnesses on the scene at the time of the shooting incident on Saturday. Our review will take time to conduct, but it will be thorough and fair.”
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