The mayor and acting police commissioner of St. Louis must be held accountable for the arrest of journalists covering public protests in the city, The NewsGuild-CWA declared at a meeting of its Executive Council on Oct. 5.
“The mayor and acting police commissioner must stop the practice of arresting of journalists who are doing their job — informing the people,” said Bernie Lunzer, president of NewsGuild-CWA, the parent union of the United Media Guild.
Five journalists were arrested on Oct. 3 while covering a protest of the acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley, who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011. This was one of the many protests that have occurred since a judge found Stockley, a white patrolman, not guilty of the murder of Smith, who was black.
The Young Turks political reporter Jordan Chariton and his cameraman Ty Bayliss were detained overnight, as was NewsGuild member Al Neal, a reporter for People’s World. Independent journalist Jon Ziegler and freelance photographer Daniel Shular were also held along with a legal observer, Steven Hoffman. They were among the 143 persons arrested at the protest.
Several times police also threatened to arrest UMG member Robert Cohen, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer — despite the fact he remained behind police lines and away from the protest that briefly blocked Interstate 64.
Two journalists were arrested while reporting on protests on Sept. 17: UMG member Michael Faulk, a Post-Dispatch reporter, and Scott Olson, a Getty photographer.
Additionally, Post-Dispatch photographer and UMG member Christian Gooden was pepper-sprayed by police on Sept. 29 while covering protests — despite moving away from police and turning his back to them as they sprayed protesters.
Gooden was pepper-sprayed after chronicling a single protester being subdued with a taser and arrested.
“The police were aware of my presence did not react negatively as I photographed the arrestee, his arresting officers and the taser cords they pulled out of him,” Gooden reported to the UMG. “Soon thereafter, dozens of protesters convened at the police line to decry his arrest and the use of a taser. At this moment, police sprayed everyone in front of the police line in a sweeping motion.
“I stepped away until I thought they were done. When I turned back to approach the line, I saw a second spraying by police toward the protesters, who were still coming to see what was going on with the arrests. I turned away hoping to avoid a spray and calculated that my turned back would bear no threat.
“That’s when I felt a cool, wet stream of the pepper spray dousing the base of my head. As I felt the stream, it seemed as though the officer tried to maneuver the spray around my head to get to my eyes. Keeping pace with the spray, I turned my head to keep square with the stream and keep it out of my eyes.”
Gooden estimated that the spraying lasted 5 or 6 seconds.
“Mayor Lyda Krewson and acting Police Commissioner Lawrence O’Toole must put a stop to the arrest of journalists, legal observers and others without cause,” Lunzer said.
“Journalists play a special role – as do the police,” he said. “If police are to be respected, they must respect others.”
The ongoing problems in St. Louis are, sadly, not unusual. This is why NewsGuild-CWA has embarked on its multi-faceted “Right to Report” project.