The situation in Ferguson, Mo. has escalated to a breaking point since unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday, Aug. 9.
After four days of protests and riots, two journalists being arrested and tear gas being fired at an Al Jazeera news crew, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon announced that St. Louis county law enforcement is being removed from duty in Ferguson. Both Al Jazeera (below video) and President Barack Obama have since responded to attacks on the press in Missouri.
The death of Brown has received national attention. The police report of the incident (that Brown assaulted an unidentified officer trying to grab his gun) conflicts with eye witness accounts
(that an officer opened fire on Brown because he wouldn’t get off the street), and the media treatment of the killing has been met with criticism for not questioning the officer’s actions more.
A vigil was held on Sunday, Aug. 10 for Brown, but it turned violent as looters raided businesses and a gas station was burned to the ground. A peaceful protest began during the day of Monday, Aug. 11, and the social media #IfTheyGunnedMeDown movement
strove to change the dialogue of the conversation surrounding Brown’s death.
Despite peaceful daytime protests, the police force in Ferguson mobilized in a manner some are criticizing as too aggressive.
The military equipment was given to police in Ferguson as part of federal program 1033, which according to Salon “distributes hundreds of millions of dollars of surplus military gear to police forces across the country and touts the motto ‘From Warfighter to Crimefighter.'”
After three days of conflicts between police and protestors, which often turned violent at night with law enforcement firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowds, the crisis in Ferguson seems to have reached a turning point due to the events that took place on Wednesday, Aug. 13.
Two reporters who were on the ground in Ferguson — Wesley Lowery
from the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly
from the Huffington Post — were unlawfully arrested
by police for not evacuating a McDonald’s quickly enough for the police officers present. They were only released from police custody after Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce
called Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, informing him for the first time of the journalists his officers arrested.
As the evening rolled in and protesters began to square off against police again, #Ferguson
was a trending topic on Twitter
across the United States. A livestream
of the events taking place was the only way to watch the riots live. Even the media on the ground wasn’t safe, as police fired tear gas directly at an Al Jazeera crew located a mile away from “ground zero.” A local NBC station had their set up across the street.
“We were very surprised by this,” Ash-har Quraishi, chief correspondent for Al Jazeera America at the channel’s Chicago Bureau, says in the above video. “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.”
Governor Nixon finally intervened in the situation by taking the St. Louis County police out of it. Representative William Lacy Clay tells Bloomberg, “The governor just called me, and he’s on his way to St. Louis now to announce he’s taking away St. Louis County police out of the situation.”
After issuing a statement on Aug. 12
, Obama held a second news conference on Aug. 14 where he shared that he has tasked the Department of Justice and FBI to investigate the circumstances surrounding Brown’s death. He also took both the police that attacked journalists and protestors and the protestors that attacked police to task.
“Here in the United States of America, police should not be bullying and arresting reporters who are just doing their jobs,” Obama says. “The local authorities, including police, have a responsibility to be transparent and open.”
He continues, “There is never an excuse for violence against police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism and looting. There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protesters in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.”