UPDATE, 10:12 AM: “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,” President Obama said this morning. His comments came hours after two print journalists were arrested and detained briefly in Ferguson, MO on Wednesday night, and journalists from Qatari news network Al Jazeera America were shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas canisters while covering another night of protests and violence in the wake of the death of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown during a police confrontation. In his statement, Obama also said of the escalating situation in Ferguson that there was no excuse for violence against police.
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“To put it simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard — particularly those of us in positions of authority,” Obama said in a statement he made from Martha’s Vineyard, which was carried live by cable news networks as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, as well as Fox broadcast stations.
PREVIOUS, 8:50 AM: Al Jazeera America has issued statements from two of its journalists who were shot at by police with rubber bullets and tear-gas canisters:
From Ash-har Quraishi, chief correspondent for Al Jazeera America at the channel’s Chicago Bureau:
“We were very surprised by this, we had been there for about an hour. We had been in contact with police officers who were just feet away from us. I had spoken to police officers who knew we were there. We had had discussions with them. We understood this was as far as we could get in terms of where the protest was going on, about a mile up the road. So, we didn’t think there would be any problems here so we were very surprised.”
“We were very close to where those [tear gas] canisters were shot from. We yelled, as you heard there [on the video]. We were yelling that we were press. But they continued to fire. We retreated about half a block into the neighborhood, until we could get out of that situation.”
“Police have said that protestors tossed Molotov cocktails in their direction. We didn’t see that because we weren’t close enough in. Again, as you mentioned, we didn’t have gas masks because we were about a mile away….”
“We thought we were at a safe distance but clearly, they pushed through and actually fired [tear gas] canisters into the neighborhood.”
From Marla Cichowski, Field Producer, Al Jazeera America:
“We were clearly set up as press with a full live shot set-up. As soon as first bullet hit the car we screamed out loud, ‘We are press,’ ‘This is media.’”
“Police that were there at the intersection directing traffic earlier knew we were there. We never drove around the police barricade.”
“There was another station local NBC parked across the street from us the whole time.”
“They shined a huge flood light at us before firing and I can only imagine they could see what they were shooting at.”
PREVIOUS, 7 AM: Journalists from Qatari news network Al Jazeera America were shot at with rubber bullets and tear gas as they were recording another night of protests and violence in Ferguson, Mo.
“Last night at 10:30 PM in Ferguson, Missouri, an Al Jazeera America news crew was reporting behind police barricades. They were easily identifiable as a working television crew,” network spokesperson Jocelyn Austin said this morning in a statement. “As they were setting up their camera for a live report, tear-gas canisters landed in their proximity and police fired rubber bullets in their direction. Police continued to shoot after crew members clearly and repeatedly shouted ‘Press.’ Al Jazeera America is stunned by this egregious assault on freedom of the press that was clearly intended to have a chilling effect on our ability to cover this important story…We believe that this situation must be investigated along with those involving our colleagues at other media outlets,” she continued, adding that the network’s journalists were not injured.
Footage from the local NBC station of the incident:
Protesters in Ferguson lobbed Molotov cocktails at police and officers responded with smoke bombs and tear gas, the Associated Press reported last night.
Those “colleagues” Austin referenced include two print journalists covering the violence last night who were arrested at a McDonalds, after being ordered by a member of a SWAT team to vacate the restaurant. Al Jazeera America competitors focused on the print journalists arrested in their coverage. MSNBC interviewed one of the two journalists on All In with Chris Hayes, who said the SWAT officers “essentially acted as a military force.” The Huffington Post‘s Ryan J. Reilly said the officer slammed his head against the glass “purposefully on the way out of McDonald’s and then sarcastically apologized for it.”
NPR interviewed Wesley Lowery, a Washington Post reporter who said he was arrested after mistakenly heading toward the wrong exit of the restaurant. When he turned and his backpack, slung over one shoulder, slipped down, he said he asked the officers for permission to adjust it. The officers then said, “Let’s take him,” pushed him against a wall and restrained his hands behind his back with plastic ties. Lowery posted his own account of his arrest, along with video, with his paper.
Lowery, something of a super-user on Twitter, firing off a few dozen posts and reposts in just the past 24 hours, despite being in jail. And he had this little gem:
He had tart comments for critics, particularly Dana Loesch of Glenn Beck‘s The Blaze network and MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough, among those who questioned why he and Reilly got themselves arrested and intimated that it might have been simply to draw attention to their work:
CNN interviewed Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson, who said he did not know who the arresting officers were, explaining “We had a lot of different agencies out there.” The print journalists reported they had asked for identification from one of the officers, who declined to provide it; Reilly said he initially declined to give the officer his ID.
These were not the first reports of press being ordered away from protest sites, but believed to be the first arrests of journalists covering the violence that broke out in the wake of Saturday’s fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African-American.
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