THE BLOG
08/14/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Vladimir Putin Is Watching Ferguson Detain Journalists With Militarized Police. We Look Like Hypocrites.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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The targeting of journalists is something that a free society must never condone, especially since such behavior is how failed states and oligarchs around the world control their citizenry. According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, both the Huffington Post's Ryan Reilly and The Washington Post's Wesley Lowery were not only detained, but assaulted in Ferguson, Missouri:

A county police tactical operations armored vehicle was deployed at the demonstration site for most of the night.

Protected by body armor, police sat atop the vehicle methodically fitting high-caliber automatic weapons into tripods which were then trained on the crowd.

...Wesley Lowery, a reporter with the Washington Post, was arrested Wednesday evening along with Ryan Reilly of the Huffington Post, according to a Twitter post by Lowery.

He wrote that police came into the McDonald's on West Florissant where the two were working, and tried "to kick everyone out."

"Officers decided we weren't leaving McDonald's quickly enough, shouldn't have been taping them," he tweeted.

"Officers slammed me into a fountain soda machine because I was confused about which door they were asking me to walk out of," he wrote.

He said that he was detained, booked, "given answers to no questions. Then just let out."

Reilly tweeted that a SWAT team invaded the McDonald's where he was working and recharging his phone, and asked for identification when he took a photo. They tried to kick everyone out, he wrote. He wrote that he was "assaulted" by an officer.

When American journalists are detained and assaulted by militarized American police who deem even people in McDonald's as a dire threat to a city's security, this country sends a dangerous message to other nations. The Huffington Post's Christine Conneta's tweet, "Just got his with tear gas, hard to see or breath," and Wesley Lowery's tweet, "But the residents have not been "rioting." It just isn't true. Protesting: yes. Outraged: yes. Clashing with police: yes. Rioting: No" are also indicative of how non-violent observers and troublemakers (that inevitably flock to any peaceful rally or protest) are lumped together by a paranoid and overly militarized police force.

Nobody is arguing that people shouldn't riot or that protests shouldn't end at some point in the day. Common sense, however, should dictate that journalists eating a Big Mac aren't rioting or looting, nor should they be arrested and assaulted in the name of safety. Also, armored vehicles and riot police are needed when rioting is taking place to end mayhem, but keeping these forces within the city to intimidate a peaceful citizens is another story.

Furthermore, when a paramilitary policeman sits "atop the vehicle methodically fitting high-caliber automatic weapons into tripods," in broad daylight (just watch the news) while citizens look in amazement, does he plan on using it to save more shoes from being stolen at the Shoe Carnival? Only 3 of Ferguson's 53 officers are black, while two-thirds of the population of the town is black. A more diverse police force, as well as tackling the underlying causes of racial divisions within Ferguson (double the poverty rate of Missouri's average) would help more than heavy weaponry to solve issues that led to Michael Brown's shooting.

As stated by Todd C. Frankel in The Washington Post, "Maybe it was how police reacted to what initially was a peaceful memorial service for Brown...Maybe the crowd sensed police weren't taking their concerns seriously." What if the police chief had attended the memorial service to show some semblance of solidarity with the family and some level of empathy? Would this have done more to prevent violence and deflate tensions? Doing so would have showed the community that real amends were being made for a tragedy, whether or not the police officer was justified in shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man.

All of this hurts the United State's ability to condemn Russia and other countries for targeting journalists, suppressing the free flow of information, intimidating local populations, imposing harsh tactics upon the majority of peaceful citizens because of the actions of a few miscreants, and other ways to describe the events at Ferguson. A 2012 Guardian article describes a Russian society where journalists risk their lives with every story:

In 2011, three journalists dead (including newspaper editor Khadzhimurad Kamalov, shot 14 times as he left his office). In 2010, two killed; in 2009, five more (including a young reporter from Novaya Gazeta, caught in a hail of bullets). Add four for 2008, one in 2007 and then 2006 as Anna Politkovskaya, the most famous victim of them all, is murdered. But she wouldn't forget Yevgeny Gerasimenko - found in his Saratov flat with a plastic bag pulled over his head and computer missing - and nor should we.

Two Russian journalists died in 2005, and three in both 2004 and 2003; but 2002 was a wicked year, with eight lost (including Valery Ivanov, battling editor, shot in the head) and 2001 added another victim. Putin's reign of power in 2000 began with six dead reporters and editors: a grim portent, looking back, of bad things to come.

There are other countries in the world where journalists repeatedly perish in the course of duty, to be sure: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico. And Russia has terrorists and rebellions of its own to deal with as well. But the drip, drip, drip of journalists' blood, year in and year out, crimes scantily investigated and rarely brought to any conclusion, is still deeply dismaying.

No, the events at Ferguson don't make the U.S. another despotic regime intent on silencing critics, but do you think Vladimir Putin cares? How about politicians in Mexico, Columbia, Nigeria and countries around the world where journalists risk their lives to write a story of events that people in power might not appreciate? The truth is American journalists were assaulted and detained in an American city and when this happens, along with the overly militarized response to an overwhelmingly peaceful protest, the world correlates our advocacy for democratic ideals with our deeds.

As stated by Ryan J. Reilly, "This cop ignored over a dozen of my requests for his name or badge number" and "After slamming my head on the door, he sarcastically apologized," there's something wrong in our democracy when law and order come before the rights of citizens. When the people who are supposed to protect you are instead assaulting you in the name of security, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Il, Robert Mugabe, Omar Hassan Al Bashir, and every other despot in the world say, "See, America does what it has to do to keep order, so will we." It doesn't matter that Ferguson is nothing like North Korea and the police force there doesn't normally target journalists. What matters is Vladimir Putin and despots around the world just read, "Apparently, in America, in 2014, police can manhandle you, take you into custody, put you in cell & then open the door like it didn't happen" and thinks one thing: "America is full of a bunch of hypocrites, let's target anyone we want."

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