The arrest of two reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post on Wednesday, as well as the tear gassing of an Al-Jazeera news crew, generated a tremendous amount of negative publicity for police in Ferguson, Missouri, and it seemed, briefly, that authorities there had concluded that cooperating with the media was a smarter tactic. However, on Sunday night, tensions flared again between cops and reporters. Just before 11 p.m. three journalists reported on Twitter that they had been handcuffed and detained by police. Others said cops were threatening to mace them, and then on a live stream with more than 45,000 viewers, an officer was caught on tape yelling at a reporter, "Get the fuck out of here. You get that light off, or you're getting shot with this."
The audio clip posted online isn't clear, and there's disagreement over whether the officer said "getting shot" or "getting shelled." Here's video of the incident, with captions by Daily Intelligencer:
Later Mustafa Hussein, who was operating KARG Argus Radio's live-stream broadcast, is heard complaining to an officer that he was told to "get the fuck out of here or I will shoot you with this," while a gun was pointed in his face. The second officer refuses to give Hussein the other cop's name, but identifies himself as Captain Todd and says he'll follow up with him tomorrow.
Several journalists on the scene reported hearing similar threats:
Cop to press on the corner of Chambers and Florissant "Get out of here or I will shoot you"— Alex Wroblewski (@alexwroblewski) August 18, 2014
Cop just told photog to "back the fuck up or ill shot."— Akilah Johnson (@akjohnson1922) August 18, 2014
To call this a volatile situation is an understatement. Cops yelling at media crews w/ lights on, saying he would shoot. #Ferguson— Akilah Johnson (@akjohnson1922) August 18, 2014
We Act Radio shared a photo of a producer who had been shot with a beanbag. The Huffington Post's Amanda Terkel and MSNBC's Chris Hayes said police were threatening to mace journalists:
Police getting mad when media goes up past their line. Tells us we'll get maced next time we do that. #Ferguson— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) August 18, 2014
Riot cop to me just a few minutes ago: "Get back! Or next time you're gonna be the one maced."— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) August 18, 2014
If you walk about 100 feet from OK'ed press area you find yourself lit up by a spotlight and a squad of police on hair trigger.— Christopher Hayes (@chrislhayes) August 18, 2014
When Chris Hayes called in to MSNBC, police were heard in the background saying, "Media do not pass us. You're getting maced next time you pass us." When asked why he was being threatened with mace, Hayes said, "Because they're generally hopped up and angry and pissed off, and aren't excited that there's about 50 reporters watching what they're doing, I would imagine, though you'd have to ask him."
Earlier, Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko, the Telegraph’s Rob Crilly and the Financial Times' Neil Munshi tweeted that they were detained and quickly released with little explanation.
Capt Johnson is now arresting us.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 18, 2014
Captain Johnson arrested us for 2 minutes. We pleaded that we had followed every instruction. He let us go.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 18, 2014
Police pointed weapon and me and Capt Johnson has threatened me with arrest. He has called squad car. V jumpy— Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) August 18, 2014
I have been arrested and am being walked away from the area— Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) August 18, 2014
Johnson has now ordered my handcuffs off along with two others. I gather we are now free— Rob Crilly (@robcrilly) August 18, 2014
Munshi took issue with those reporting that they had been "arrested":
.@apjvalk to be clear we were detained for a couple minutes, not arrested.— neiL Munshi (@neiLmunshi) August 18, 2014
Klemko explained what led to the incident:
About 25 minutes after the gas attack, with the smoke cleared and the area secure, we attempted to go back down the street to report.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 18, 2014
Capt Johnson said walk away or be arrested. I started walking away. They followed and arrested us.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 18, 2014
When they cut cuffs off minutes later, I held onto it. Johnson tried to take it. I said "it's a ferguson souvenir." pic.twitter.com/89t6G49FId— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) August 18, 2014