AAN was one of 39 media organizations and companies who signed a letter drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press asking St. Louis County prosecutors to drop charges brought against two reporters arrested during last yearâ€™s protests in Ferguson, Mo. The reporters in question, Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of The Huffington Post, were sitting a McDonaldâ€™s charging their phones when police demanded that they leave. As they complied with the order, the reporters asked various questions of the police and filmed the officers â€“ all legal behavior. Yet, they were arrested for â€œdisobeyingâ€ an order, as well as being charged with trespassing.
We were discouraged by the arrests at the time; we are outraged by the fact that charges have been brought a year later. One would think that law enforcement and prosecutors would have come to their senses in that time. This is especially true in light of former Attorney General Eric Holderâ€™s statement following the arrests that: â€œJournalists must not be harassed or prevented from covering a story that needs to be told.â€ Particularly upsetting in these cases is the fact that the reporters in question were not interfering with the police or disturbing the peace in any way, shape or form. However, the letter sends the further message that the First Amendment demands that reporters and others engaged in protected activities be given leeway to express themselves or gather information even in the â€œheat of the moment.â€ It should be clear that a reporter is one of these people. Yet, even â€œwith a full year to review the situation and decide what actions constitute a crime,â€ prosecutorsâ€¦made poor judgment calls that do not respect First Amendment rights.â€
As the letter concludes, â€œThe best way for Ferguson to show that it will respect the First Amendment rights of journalists covering the continuing controversy there is to rescind these charges immediately.â€