One of about two dozen journalists arrested while covering the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown faces a court hearing Tuesday. St. Louis-based videographer Mary Moore said she wants her reputation, and her criminal record, cleared. She was charged with municipal violations after an arrest on Oct. 3. She says she was only shooting video but was among 13 people taken into custody during a demonstration outside Ferguson police headquarters. The August death of Brown, who was black and unarmed, by then-Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, led to protests that are still going on. During the demonstrations, journalists from around the world were among the hundreds of people arrested.
Moore, whose videos have been used by The Associated Press, TV networks and other news organizations, is among the few journalists to actually go to court. She was charged with failure to comply and resisting arrest. She said she was not part of the protest, but was simply documenting it on video. "There was no resisting," she said in a phone interview. "I'm not an idiot." The San Francisco-based Freedom of the Press Foundation compiled a list of journalists arrested in Ferguson. Nineteen journalists were arrested in August, one in September, two in October and two in November. Trevor Timm, executive director of the foundation, said that in most cases, charges were not filed. Missouri's online court reporting system does not show state charges against any of the arrested journalists, but Ferguson city charges would not appear there. A Ferguson spokesman did not return messages seeking comment. Timm said there are ample witnesses, along with plenty of video evidence, showing that most of the journalists arrested in Ferguson were simply trying to do their jobs. "The police were acting on a hair-trigger and weren't respecting the First Amendment rights of both journalists and protesters," Timm said. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, among other basic rights.
Police leaders did not respond to interview requests but have defended the arrests. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson, in charge of security in Ferguson in the weeks after the shooting, said some journalists were repeatedly asked to return to sidewalks or safe areas for their own well-being. He said it was often difficult to discern media from protesters. Forty-eight media organizations, including the AP, sent a letter to Ferguson law enforcement officials in August, criticizing treatment of reporters.
The only recent event that spurred more arrests of journalists was the Occupy movement in 2011 and 2012. Josh Stearns, director of journalism and sustainability for the New Jersey-based Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, reported that more than 90 journalists were arrested in 12 U.S. cities during Occupy protests. After her arrest, Moore and 12 protesters were taken to a jail in nearby St. Ann, forced to change into orange jail jumpsuits, and kept in a single cell with a few other people arrested for unrelated reasons, she said. Moore and the protesters were all detained overnight. Moore, who's in her early 40s but declined to give her exact age, said the arrest has harmed her reputation and has been a source of stress.