(Photo by Photo: Christina Coleman, KSDK-TV)
By Mike Cavender, RTDNA Executive Director
It conjures up recollections of the ‘60s civil rights protests or the ‘70s anti-war demonstrations. But, of course, it’s neither. It’s Ferguson, MO--where protestors, vandals and looters are challenging the efforts of the police to keep some modicum of peace and security in this St. Louis suburb. And reporters and photographers continue to get caught in the middle.
RTDNA has been at the forefront to convince law enforcement to respect the rights of the media. Reporters are lawfully going about their business, documenting the story and providing news coverage to an information-thirsty audience which has a right to expect it.
Efforts to defuse the combustible situation first came last week, when Governor Jay Nixon ordered command of the situation be taken over by the Missouri Highway Patrol, rather than the local police who had been in charge. A brief time of relative calm followed, as we saw pictures of the new commander, Captain Ron Johnson (himself a resident of Ferguson) walking arm-in-arm down the street with residents and telling a church gathering there that “I am sorry.”
Then, things exploded all over again after the Ferguson City Police Chief released surveillance video from a convenience store which allegedly showed Michael Brown engaged in a strong-arm robbery only hours before his fatal confrontation with police.
News crews from all over the nation have been scrambling to keep up with developments for more than a week now. At various times, some have been harassed, arrested, tear-gassed and subjected to other such tactics while trying to do their jobs.
No one disagrees that tempers are high, emotions are raw and split-second decisions have to be made. Those who protest non-violently, as Captain Johnson said when he took over, must be allowed to do so without impingement. Media who are acting lawfully must also be allowed to do their jobs without harassment or detainment. On the other hand, those who are acting criminally must be held accountable and should be the primary focus of the law enforcement efforts in Ferguson.