With all the recent violence that has taken place in Ferguson, Missouri since the shooting of Michael Brown, a good question has been brought up about how police officers carry out their job.
Though President Obama has urged the citizens of Ferguson to protest peacefully, many people have engaged in riots, arson, vandalism, and looting as a result of the shooting. Because of all the violent rioting that has been taking place, the police were forced to bring in SWAT teams with armored guards, tear gas, smoke bombs, and more to calm the situation, which seemed justified given the circumstances, with the exception of tear gas, which can actually cause permanent eye damage. However, what is not justified is the fact that police in Ferguson told journalists to disperse and to stop recording the police officers’ interactions with protesters.
This, in addition to many other recent incidents across the country, such as Eric Garner’s case in New York, sparked a huge debate about the public’s freedom to record police officers while they are doing their job. If the police are, in fact, following all of the rules about how they are allowed to interact with people when doing their daily job, then why should they feel uncomfortable or angry if they are being filmed?
In some cases, police even attacked members of the press in Ferguson for taking photos of the violence that was occurring between officers and protesters. Huffington Post reporter, Ryan J. Reilly, who was filming a swarm of police officers inside a McDonald’s, had his head slammed into a window by a police and was then detained along with another fellow reporter. As an aspiring journalist and a strong believer in the freedom of the press, this is a complete outrage as it is perfectly legal to film police officers while they are on duty. In fact, the state of Illinois had a law that banned people from doing so and the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the law was unconstitutional because of the fact that it violated the right to freedom of speech.
I think this issue should be getting much more attention than how the police in Ferguson were dealing with the violent protestors, which was necessary for the safety of the town and its police officers. Just a few months after the governor of Missouri was forced to declare a state of emergency in Ferguson, I think the biggest takeaway from this incident is that police officers make mistakes too and we, as citizens of “the land of the free”, should know that we have an opportunity and are allowed to make sure that they are not abusing their power.
Having said this, it is important to keep in mind that this does not mean people should think that they have the ability to get in the way of the job of police officers or that they should not cooperate with police officers, but they are free to respectfully record or take photos of them to make sure that a terrible thing like Ryan Reilly’s case does not happen again.