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August 15, 2014 at 6:01 AM

Lessons from Ferguson: Citizens have right to capture photos, videos of militarized police

Numerous journalism associations came forward on Thursday to condemn the unnecessary arrest and subsequent release of two reporters covering the aftermath of the Michael Brown killing in Ferguson, Mo.

Read The Washington Post’s roundup of statements or see the tweet below from the American Society of Newspaper Editors:

Reporters Wesley Lowerey of The Washington Post and Ryan J. Reilly of The Huffington Post were simply doing their jobs. So far, it appears police entered the McDonald’s they were working in and escalated the situation for no good reason. Those uniformed officers should be identified, punished and trained on how to treat fellow citizens with respect, whether they are civilians or members of the press.

They only have themselves to blame for the widespread attention to their actions.

Reporters are in Ferguson to cover a story. When they become part of the narrative, journalists everywhere pay attention. Coverage blows up to a whole new level. Unfortunately, it took the mistreatment of these two journalists for Missouri officials to “get it” and send in State Patrol officers to seize law enforcement authority.

What’s more striking to many of us is the series of images and video coming out of Missouri, including the photo below captured by The Washington Post. Are we looking at scenes from a war zone or Middle America? Hard to tell the difference these past few days.

The unrest reminds me of a 2011 rap song by Seattle’s Blue Scholars called “Oskar Barnack ∞ Oscar Grant,” about the fatal shooting of an unarmed African-American man by a police officer at a BART station in Oakland. Rapper Geo’s lyrics still resonate three years later — and after several similar incidents involving authority figures killing young black men — in his call for citizens to shoot (videos and photos) of cops.

“But guess what, the people got a weapon of their own/ The lens and a shutter built into a mobile phone/ Evidence admissible in court/Even more documented cases of what’s been going on /Shoot the cops/Take your cameras out ya pockets people.”

Not only do Americans have a legal right to document police activity (as we’re reminded in this article from The Atlantic), but sometimes a phone with a camera is the only tool citizens have to hold increasingly militarized police forces accountable.

Here’s a video featuring the Blue Scholars song, but be warned there is strong language.

Comments | Topics: Ferguson, Michael Brown, Mo.

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