The Cops in Ferguson Are Wrong, but That Doesn't Make the Arrested Reporters Right

Categories: Schutze

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If anyone in this vehicle asks you a question, your answer must include the words "sir" or "ma'am," and if you're not sure which, say, "Your Honor."
The cops in Ferguson, Missouri, come across as a bunch of untrained, undisciplined bubbas, but that doesn't put the two reporters arrested in a McDonald's restaurant last night in the right.

These issues: The cops spoke first with the manager of the restaurant and then began to clear and shut down the restaurant, so we don't know if the manager acquiesced in the decision to clear the place. Probably he or she did agree to it.

If not, if it was a police decision alone to clear the place, the question whether the police have a right to shut down a restaurant is a good one for moot court in law school. But when the cops are dealing with a riot and they tell people to get out of a restaurant, everybody has to get out of the restaurant right now. Fast. Quick-step.

The reporters weren't asking the cops questions. They were arguing with them. "Please don't wave your gun at me." Oh, please. Shut up.

"You see me working," one reporter says.

Yeah? So what?

The cop says, "Let's go," and the reporter says, "I'm working on it." I'm working on it? You've got to be kidding me. The answer is, "Yes, sir." Feets don't fail me now.

Look, I argue with the cops at certain news scenes. I argued with them a couple months ago out in front of a car wash they were barricading for no good reason in South Dallas, but I was virtually the only person present. There was nothing going on, no action, no pressure on the cops to get things under control. They threatened to arrest me if I kept asking them why they were blockading the place. I said, "You got to do what you got to do."

Oh, wow, Mr. Wise-Ass, eh? But those circumstances afforded a little bit of wise-ass. By the way, that's what cops do, always, if you piss them off: They threaten to arrest you. If you piss them off enough, they do arrest you. Figure it out.

It's a judgment call on the part of a reporter in the middle of a police action, whether or not the circumstances allow the luxury of wise-ass. Last November when I covered protests outside the 50th anniversary at Dealey Plaza, a plainclothes cop told me to get out of his way. I was standing in his line of sight in the crowd and he wanted my position for himself. I asked if he was police. He said yes. I got the hell out of his way.

Things were happening, things were underway, the pressure was on the police to contain the situation right then and there. If you defy the police or impede them under those circumstances, I don't care if you've got a golden press badge on your chest, I don't care if you're the Prince of Wales with a crown on your head, they're going to clock you with a flashlight. That's just how it is.

The cop in one of the McDonald's videos asks the reporter for his ID and the reporter refuses to present it. Wrong answer, man. The question whether you can refuse to present ID when you're not doing anything is another good one for the moot court. If shit's happening, you give them the damned ID.

Out front of the car wash last June, we had a nice legal argument about my police press pass. I gave it to them. They told me it was expired. I may have been a bit of a jerk about it, possibly. I told them we make those stupid things ourselves at the Observer because right now in Dallas there is no such thing as an official police press pass. They asked to see my driver's license, so I gave it to them.

In a riot, I would have given them everything I had right away, the expired fake press pass and the driver's license along with a nice photo of my wife, right away, and I would have said, "I'm sorry officer, but the city is no longer issuing official press passes." No jerking around.

One reporter last night got his head bashed against a window when they were rousting him. Yup. The only way I know of in a roust not to get your head bashed or your pinkies mashed or plastic cuffs so tight you lose feeling in your hand for six months or forever is not to get rousted in the first place. Rousting is very imprecise.

My experiences, by the way, are penny ante. I have a friend who was in Afghanistan, not embedded with U.S. troops but on his own out on the road in some very bad mountains, when he got stopped at a checkpoint. My friend is a seasoned foreign and war correspondent. One look at the "police" at the checkpoint, and he knew he was dealing with police/drunk bandits. He was meek and mild and ready to offer gifts of cigarettes to one and all. Christmas came early in Afghanistan. Next car of reporters through the checkpoint, the "police" hauled them out of the car and shot them. No one knows why.

I am not here defending the cops in Ferguson. Somebody gave them way too much Uncle Sam SWAT gear for Christmas and way too little training on how to use it. In other videotape, they fire tear gas at a film crew and then when the film crew runs off the cops go mess with their lights and cameras.

These are yahoos. These are undisciplined, out-of-control bubbas. But two things to say about that: One, undisciplined yahoos are very dangerous. Ask the people of Ferguson. If you snotty-voice defy them, you're going to get your head bashed against a window, just like everybody else on the street.

Secondly, more importantly, if you really want to stay out there and get the story, you need to signal in every way possible that you are not on a side, not for or against the people on either side. If you want to be treated as a neutral, act neutral. Way neutral. Act nice, in fact. Fake it.

The focus on the police treatment of media in Ferguson is interesting for what it tells us about the nature of that police department, but if we're supposed to stop and feel sorry for the reporters, then no. That's a huge swerve away from the real story.


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216 comments
laked3
laked3

The DO is full of suck this week. Stick to food articles for your own good.

ToscasKiss
ToscasKiss

Some of what you say has sense to it (basic premise: be polite and as accommodating as possible to the police), but with some you're off-base, I think.  One recurring point made about the Ferguson Police's practices there is that they would give instructions or commands, and then, one way or another, make it impossible for people to comply.  For instance, with at least one reporter in that restaurant, one officer told him to get out, indicating a specific door, but when the reporter went towards that door, another officer shooed him away, indicating a different door; when he approached THAT door, the first officer got pissed.  Crappy communication/lack of coordination.  Also, as the Washington Post reporter was trying to exit, he says his bag started slipping off his shoulder, threatening to fall to the floor (you can imagine, all that stuff probably spread out, then having been hurriedly stuffed into something, in an effort to get out); he said something like, "Officers, could you give me one moment please, to get this bag in place?"  That was when one cop said something like "Let's take him!" and he was slammed up against a drink machine (something like that--I'm going on memory from a TV report).  Then too, there were residents being told to go home, who tried to, but could not get to the other side of the street, beyond which their homes lay, because of the barricades, through which the officers wouldn't let them pass.  I heard a report of people walking long distances, trying to find a way to get to their homes, but finding every way blocked, even as police threatened them for still being out in public.  What is someone supposed to do in that situation?

Subnx
Subnx

Nobody should go to a riot. Particularly Al Jazeera.

Subnx
Subnx

Jim is absolutely correct.

gusmpls
gusmpls

Never question a cop? Do whatever he asks you, regardless of your legal rights? I don't think so

thefncrow
thefncrow

"If not, if it was a police decision alone to clear the place, the question whether the police have a right to shut down a restaurant is a good one for moot court in law school. But when the cops are dealing with a riot and they tell people to get out of a restaurant, everybody has to get out of the restaurant right now. Fast. Quick-step."

Maybe this would be the case, if there was an actual riot.  There was no riot happening when this event occurred, so....

lebowski300
lebowski300

Jim lost some respect from me on this one.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

There is one other factor you fail to take into account, Jim, and that's the increasing militarization of civilian police. 

As the photo that leads off your column suggests, these are not the police you and I grew up covering in the 1960s and '70s. Many of them are the same decent hard-working law officers. But too many are not, and more importantly, the whole mind-set of law enforcement has changed since 9/11. I sense it and so do you, if you're honest. 

How many of today's cops are returned veterans, honed on urban combat and trained to regard every civilian as an enemy? How easily is this experience and training, so inappropriate for law enforcement, set aside? One result is the widespread "war on cameras" that has seen police since 2001 increasingly challenge the rights of ordinary citizens to take photographs in public places. We've seen it also in the homeland security mania that has urban police departments working hand-in-glove with the NSA and other spook agencies. And, I submit we're seeing it in the increasing eagerness of cops to shoot first and skip the questions.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Of course you are correct Jim. The audacity of anyone standing up for their rights to assembly, free speech, free press.

If you can find a nickel's worth of difference between these yahoos an Bull Conner's thugs, except for the lethality and modernity of their weapons, you are welcome to them.

These roving bands of thugs, on the citizens' dime, killing citizens with impunity, are a blight on the American landscape.

Do you need to be drawn a map to see the difference in mentality and tactics between, cops on the beat and cops armed and armored to the teeth? The excessive toys engender and beget the confrontations they say they want to avoid.

xdarkridex
xdarkridex

Now if only this was a riot.  If only the police had given them actual useful instructions to leave (read the WaPo story: told him to go one way, then blocked that way).  If only the police hadn't all but ignored them until they started filming.  If only the police had any real motive to clear the McDonalds except that it was known as reporter central due to the wifi and usable outlets for recharging devices.  If only this was the only obvious move to shut down reporters.  


Schutze, you're off in the weeds here.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

If your rich, somehow high profile, or important you can tell the cops to fuck off..If your poor I wouldnt recommend it.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

Its a sad story from the beginning to the end, a young man was shot in the back, some idiots rioted and burnt a QT, the rest of the city protests, demands accountability and gets it main thoroughfare invaded by county police.  Our own citizens tear gassed en masse and rubber bullets sprayed at them for standing in a street with their arms in the air.  History will not look back kindly upon this.  And sadly, it may only get worse in the coming nights.  Just glad to hear that St Louis County police have been pulled from duty in this incident

ToscasKiss
ToscasKiss

@wontunow Doesn't mean it was defensible to kill him, especially by a police officer who reportedly knew nothing about this incident.

the_dude47
the_dude47

@wontunow looks like an offensive lineman tossing around a jockey! this is going to cause some more havoc/ damage control. maybe the store clerk was a racist for not giving the poor kid a free box of cigars?  

the_dude47
the_dude47

@lebowski300 sounds like jim's growing up and realizes that reporters shouldn't be a part of the story? 

noblefurrtexas
noblefurrtexas topcommenter

@JimSX In the case of some of us, that would require a Genni!  :)

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

Cops aren't playthings. The guy risks his life every day.

When in trouble, call a magician.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@JimSX


I think I saw this guy at an open carry rally.

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bmarvel

I hate to sound defensive or anything, but I thought I did take that into account, maybe too flippantly, by observing that the Ferguson cops obviously have way too many SWAT toys from the feds. The post-9/11 America Scared Shitless movement spawned an entire industry in arms sales to Mayberry P.D.s, and this sure looks like an example. I'm not defending the Ferguson cops at all. I am saying, however, that all cops, good and bad, who are sent in to contain mayhem can only do so by establishing absolute Marshall law kick-ass unchallenged authority -- temporarily, we always hope -- and they can't have anybody, press included, standing around sticking out their tongues saying, "You're not the boss of me." It just doesn't go. It isn't part of the deal. Every time a city goes meshugge like this, America dies, in that place, for that amount of time it takes to get everything straightened out again. And you know, Bill, that reporters who wade into that mess have to know where they are. If you see cops night-sticking a pregnant woman, get some pictures, but be ready to run like a cheetah. 

pak152
pak152

@bmarvel and let us not forget the increased militarization of federal agenices. more and more they are armed to the teeth. i'm talking about agencies like FDA, NOAA, EPA to name just a couple
http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/385399/congressman-pushing-legislation-demilitarize-federal-regulatory-agencies-ryan-lovelace

'How many of today's cops are returned veterans, honed on urban combat and trained to regard every civilian as an enemy?"
good question bill many may have been members of MP reserve units, maybe Jim could FOIA a few local police departments to see how many are vets

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheRuddSki 

Like it'll ever happen...

like what will ever happen?

Rand Paul being elected President where he can impact the issue? or

that police departments will voluntarily give up these military items?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Yes. Held for about half hour till chief got wind of phone and twitter storm.

tdkisok
tdkisok

@ScottsMerkin


I totally agree. I'm sure as well as you are that justice would have eventually prevailed in the senseless killing of this young black man............HAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA 

pak152
pak152

@ScottsMerkin "burnt a QT" more than just a QT don't forget the looting that took place

Charlie
Charlie

@bvckvs @thefncrow Also, and this cannot be understated, THE CHIEF OF THE COUNTY POLICE HAD NO FUCKING CLUE HIS OWN OFFICERS WERE SHUTTING DOWN BUSINESSES!

thefncrow
thefncrow

@the_dude47 @lebowski300 The reporters became part of the story when the police stormed a McDonalds and arrested them.  The reporters didn't want to be part of the story (each of them has since directly said this), but they were made part of it by an out-of-control police force.

bmarvel
bmarvel topcommenter

@JimSX A full-dress debate on this, Jim, can wait for another day. But I do recommend bvckvs' comment, below, on police treatment of the al Jazeera crew. As you must know from experience, sometimes the cops believe that shutting down the press IS containing mayhem. I guess we could wait a day and let the newspaper's lawyers file some kind of protest, which will then be answered by an official denial. The alternative, skulking around trying to look inconspicuous, presents its own dangers. Courtesy is still the recommended a first response. But when that fails -- what?

I notice that citizen photographers who have defied bogus police orders to stop shooting have usually ended up in jail but have almost always prevailed in court. A little civil disobedience can be a useful thing, if you have the courage for it.  

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@mavdog

What an odd question.

manpanties
manpanties

@ozonelarryb I thought arrested meant charges.  I thought they just let them out after a few minutes with nothing.


the_dude47
the_dude47

@thefncrow @the_dude47 @lebowski300 unknown reporters like to be known- if getting hassled by cops so you can get your 15 mins works for them then they'll do it. they're already milking this thing dry. 

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

@bvckvs @the_dude47 @lebowski300 No, I think reporters should get the stories. I don't know about the Washington Post guy,but the Huffpo dude just doesn't know how to handle himself. Green probably.  

Subnx
Subnx

Al Jazeera. Give me a break.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheRuddSki 

you made the "odd" remark, it requires an "odd" question.

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

Arrest means to stop. So a traffic stop is an arrest.

thefncrow
thefncrow

@manpanties @ozonelarryb They were forcibly detained, transferred to the police station, booked, and held in a holding cell.  That's an arrest.  That the police chief caught wind of the ludicrously stupid thing the officers did and released them without charge doesn't change that they were arrested.

You can be arrested without being charged.  You can also be charged without being arrested. They are not mutually exclusive.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@mavdog

Paul called for what most people in this commentariat cell call for - restraint of the militarized state.

A libertarian, liberal, and conservative agreement, I think.

There is not much distance between Paul's editorial, and Obama's brief statement on the issue.

thefncrow
thefncrow

@TheCredibleHulk @bvckvs @thefncrow @the_dude47 @lebowski300 

Does someone have to explain the passage of time to you?


The two reporters were arrested just before 7pm, at a time when there was no riot.


By the time the reporters were processed, booked, released, and doing interviews, the police had created unrest by firing less-lethal munitions at the peaceful protesters.


The only way your comment makes the remotest amount of sense is if you think the reporters were being interviewed as they were being arrested.

mavdog
mavdog topcommenter

@TheRuddSki 

Rand Paul, who is a very thoughtful person BTW, is taking the discussion beyond "the militarized state". Paul is discussing the "big government" aspect, to wit:

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem.

really not too much different than what Eisenhower warned us about when he referred to the Military Industrial Complex. except it has been Paul's party that has promoted the MIC to where it is today.

Does Paul belong in the Republican Party? His positions do not seem all that congruent with the party's platform.

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@mavdog

Do you think Paul would fit better in the Party of Big Government?

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TheRuddSki Which party would that be?  The Republicans are every bit as guilty of growing government beyond reason as the Democrats are.  The only difference between the two is the Democrats are pretty much honest about it, where the Reps like to rest on the lie that they're the party of "less government".

TheRuddSki
TheRuddSki topcommenter

@RTGolden1

The party at least has a constituency which favors smaller government. Do they actually meet constituents wishes in that regard?

The answer to that is "Tea Party"

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

@TheRuddSki From what I've seen, the Tea Party (at least the group that holds sway in the Republican Party) only wishes to limit government that doesn't directly benefit them.  Point out to them that Social Security is big government and needs to be done away with, and see how fast they change their tune.

Or, point out the rampant socialism found in our government subsidizing agriculture and how farmers have been rooking both the taxpayer and the poor for over 100 years, and the Tea Party will shut you down fast as Flynn.

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