News, Culture & Society

St Louis police ‘cursed,’ ‘mocked’ journalists: US groups

Groups advocating for press freedoms say police pepper-sprayed, cursed at and mocked journalists during demonstrations in the US city of St Louis, which broke out in mid-September 2017

Groups advocating for American press freedoms on Wednesday accused St Louis police of mistreating journalists covering weeks of protests following the acquittal of a former officer in a murder case.

At least 10 journalists have been arrested since mid-September in the midwestern city, according to an open letter signed by 18 organizations, including a journalists’ union.

“Journalists… were pepper-sprayed, cursed at, mocked, and treated with excessive force by police. Journalists who identified themselves and showed press credentials were arrested nonetheless,” the letter said.

The journalists were covering street protests which ensued almost immediately following the September 15 verdict clearing white former policeman Jason Stockley in the 2011 fatal shooting of Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Police responded in force, arresting scores of people. Protesters and journalists reported strong-handed tactics, such as indiscriminate use of pepper spray and arrests of innocent bystanders.

Among the most high-profile arrests was that of St Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Michael Faulk on September 17. He was jailed for 13 hours before being released, and told AFP he remained in “legal limbo.”

“Charges have not been filed, but they have not been dropped either,” Faulk said by email.

The Post-Dispatch has condemned Faulk’s arrest and called for the city to take corrective actions.

The open letter, signed by the Committee to Protect Journalists, NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America and others, urged the city to consider “the impact of law enforcement actions on freedom of the press.”

It asked St Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson to punish culpable officers and to set clear policies for how police are to deal with the press during protests.

Krewson, who did not respond to a request for comment, and the city’s police chief have called for investigations of officers’ conduct.

The mayor’s office released a statement in late September calling allegations of police abuse “troubling.”

The city also faces two lawsuits over the police’s treatment of protesters.

The American Civil Liberties Union is currently awaiting a judge’s ruling on a request to bar heavy-handed policing tactics during protests.

Two filmmakers also are suing, claiming they were abused by officers and retaliated against for documenting the demonstrations and the police response.

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