Police Militarization, Citizen Journalism And The Suppression Of Free Speech: The Ferguson Fiasco Highlights Systemic Problem
from the time-to-change-things dept
But of course, in this day and age, focusing just on the "professional" press is kind of meaningless. Anyone can be a part of the press, and that's happening quite frequently. Local Alderman Antonio French went out into Ferguson and was doing plenty of reporting, even if he wasn't professional media. Here were some of his tweets from last night:
The whole thing highlights just how dangerous this situation has become and how police in Ferguson appear to be trampling over basically every constitutional right they can come up with (there was a joke on Twitter last night -- and forgive me for not being able to track down where it originated -- that before too long, police in Ferguson will be demanding to be quartered in residents' houses...).
We've been covering the ridiculous trend of militarizing the police for quite some time (though nowhere near as long as Radley Balco, who has been warning about this for ages, with very few people paying attention...), and just last month highlighted just how ridiculous it has become. In many, many cases, the militarization is actually driven by the Department of Homeland Security giving local police forces cast off military equipment for free. In the past 12 years, DHS has given $35 billion (with a b) in grants and equipment to local police forces. I recently found out that the local police in the small sleepy suburb where Techdirt's offices are located got themselves an MRAP, and it scares me silly.
Glenn Greenwald is noting that the events in Ferguson are finally dragging the horrors of a militarized police force into the limelight, and I hope it leads to a severe about-face. Ryan Cooper, at The Week, has a similar piece, saying that what's happening in Ferguson shows why you don't militarize police. Another comment (again, sorry for the lack of attribution as I can't find it now) that flew by on Twitter was something to the effect of that the military is trained to take out an enemy, while the police are supposed to be the public's servants. But when you militarize the police, the public becomes the enemy.
Given all this, Trevor Timm, of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, rightly notes that the militarization of the police is now a press freedom issue as well:
And, of course, what that really shows is that this is not just a freedom of the press issue, but a freedom of speech issue -- and, more broadly, a freedom issue, period. By militarizing the police, DHS and the federal government have set up a situation that is designed to snuff out free speech, freedom of assembly and the rights of everyone. It is trampling the very constitution it is supposedly defending. It's a complete travesty. It's been going on for a while, but the events in Ferguson only serve to highlight just how ridiculous and dangerous the situation has become.
But until now, this issue has not really reached the mainstream, or if it has, it's been thought of as something that happens in a foreign authoritarian country and not the United States. Besides the arrests yesterday, you can watch video of Al Jazeera journalists being tear-gassed by these police forces (and perhaps mistake it for footage from Tahrir Square in Egypt). Or you listen to a brave citizen journalist operating a livestream describe events as police demand people to turn off their cameras, just as the tear gas and rubber bullets start to fly. Or you can think about citizen journalist Antonio French who was not as lucky as the other two reporters and is still sitting in jail.
In response to the travesty in Ferguson, the Justice Department indicated it may re-open a broad review of local police tactics around the country to investigate some of these issues. That is the least they should do. The rights of countless lawful citizens have been trampled on in Ferguson and around the country thanks to these police tactics, and something needs to be done soon.
But reporters should take note: these issues don't just affect protesters, but also affect those who cover the protest. It creates an environment where police think they can disregard the law and tell reporters to stop filming, despite their legal right to do so, or fire tear gas directly at them to prevent them from doing their job. And if the rights of journalists are being trampled on, you can almost guarantee it's even worse for those who don't have such a platform to protect themselves. Mr. Lowery said it best after he was released from jail yesterday:
“I knew I was going to be fine,” he said. “But the thing is, so many people here in Ferguson don’t have as many Twitter followers as I have and don’t have [Washington Post owner] Jeff Bezos or whoever to call and bail them out of jail.”