Wesley Lowery of the Washington Post and Ryan Reilly of Huffington Post were arrested on Wednesday, 13 August, for being in a McDonald’s near the scene of the mob actions that have occurred over the last several days.
That’s right. They were arrested for being in a McDonald’s.
Neither man was causing a public disturbance of any kind, and the location of the arrest was inside the McDonald’s, where members of the press have been congregating to charge phones, use wireless, and (of course) eat meals.
According to Lowery, officers came in to identify the customers in the McDonald’s, apparently sometime Wednesday afternoon or in the early evening. A short time afterward, a number of officers returned and told them they would have to leave. Lowery began recording the event with his phone, but according to his account, no one put up any resistance. An officer told him to stop recording, but Lowery did press that point, and the officer backed off.
I’ll let Lowery pick up the tale:
As I made my way toward the door, the officers gave me conflicting information.
One instructed me to exit to my left. As I turned left, another officer emerged, blocking my path.
“Go another way,” he said.
As I turned, my backpack, which was slung over one shoulder, began to slip. I said, “Officers, let me just gather my bag.” As I did, one of them said, “Okay, let’s take him.”
Multiple officers grabbed me. I tried to turn my back to them to assist them in arresting me. I dropped the things from my hands.
“My hands are behind my back,” I said. “I’m not resisting. I’m not resisting.” At which point one officer said: “You’re resisting. Stop resisting.”
That was when I was most afraid — more afraid than of the tear gas and rubber bullets.
As they took me into custody, the officers slammed me into a soda machine, at one point setting off the Coke dispenser. They put plastic cuffs on me, then they led me out the door.
I could see Ryan still talking to an officer. I said: “Ryan, tweet that they’re arresting me, tweet that they’re arresting me.”
He didn’t have an opportunity, because he was arrested as well.
Lowery and Reilly were taken to the police station, where, after initial processing, they were held for a brief period (Lowery says it felt like 10-15 minutes). Eventually, an officer came in looking for members of the media, and released them at that point.
The police told them there was no arrest report that they could get a copy of, but there might be a report of the incident available in two weeks.
Ryan Reilly’s account is here.
Business Insider indicates that Ferguson’s Chief of Police, Thomas Jackson, was stunned to learn that his officers had arrested two journalists. According to Hunter Walker’s report (citing the Los Angeles Times), it was Jackson who intervened to have the reporters released promptly.
A different picture emerges from the account of a reporter for the conspiracy site Infowars, who reports being hit with a beanbag round on Wednesday night, and being pinned down in a vehicle with a VICE News reporter as police used flash bangs and tear gas on their area.
Joe Biggs, the Infowars reporter, appears to have been covering crowds that assembled in Ferguson on Wednesday evening and reportedly threw Molotov cocktails at police, who responded with the teargas and smoke bombs. Officers faced the crowds from armored trucks, at times turning guns on them to hold them at bay.
There is no question that the images of heavily armed police are horrifying.
— Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoyACN) August 14, 2014
Let’s take a step back, however, and recognize that – as Renee Nal reported on Monday – professional agitators are converging on Ferguson to incite greater unrest and violence. The St. Louis Fox affiliate reported on Wednesday that the FBI says a New Black Panther leader, Chawn Kweli, is in Ferguson “to respond to the shooting of Michael Brown.” This is the text of a Facebook update from Kweli:
This is the hour all the greats promised. If you die, die like a warrior. I’ll see you on the ground.
Sounds eerily like something the ISIS goons would say. Chris Loesch Tweeted an update Wednesday night on the reports of outside agitators flocking to Ferguson:
I’m getting reports that some protesters, including leaders are anarcho-communists bussed in from Chicago to incite more violence. #Ferguson
— Chris Loesch (@ChrisLoesch) August 14, 2014
Locals have been heard asking the instigators to stop throwing things at police.
I hear the feed and citizens yelling, begging for instigators to stop throwing things at the police. #Ferguson
— Chris Loesch (@ChrisLoesch) August 14, 2014
Keep in mind as well that this is happening after Ferguson locals already responded to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by looting, destroying, and burning down businesses. Of course police are on edge and don’t know what to do, other than deploy their military-grade equipment and try to break up the restless mobs, who at any moment could start throwing things, burning, and looting again.
Analyzing what’s wrong
There’s enough snarky, juvenile complacency out there, so among us adults, let’s acknowledge that there’s plenty of wrong to go around on all sides of this problem. A big part of the wrong is that too many commentators are trying to make events fit their ideological narrative, and are therefore stressing specific aspects of the events rather than giving evenhanded accounts.
The police are overly militarized, in my view; but they are hardly overreacting, when mobs have already tried to burn the city down. The crowds are turning into unruly mobs each night, but there is still evidence that locals would prefer peaceful demonstrations and an orderly approach to investigating the death of Michael Brown. Professional agitators are instigating at least some of the violence. Some public officials are making incendiary statements. What’s going on in Ferguson is not some inevitable pathology of “black” people. Most of the people of every race are showing up to demonstrate peacefully.
Here’s what I do see a justification to criticize: the absence of leadership, focus, and chain of command. It is at least 48 hours past time for Governor Jay Nixon to step in and take over the microphone. We should be seeing him standing shoulder to shoulder with the mayor of Ferguson, the commander of the state police, the chief of the Ferguson police, and the county sheriff. Frankly, the federal government should have stood politely in the background, the city should have had prompt back-up, and Missouri should have taken the lead on this problem from the get-go.
Maybe it’s necessary to call out the National Guard. But maybe it’s not. My sense at this point is that there’s one main thing that needs to happen, and that’s identifying outside agitators and systematically separating them from the local crowds. Crossing state lines to hold signs is one thing. Crossing state lines to incite people to throw Molotov cocktails is a felony. No one has a civil right to do the latter. For that problem, law enforcement is the answer, not tanks and armored personnel carriers in the streets.
The FBI can certainly help with that problem. But it should be helping, not taking the lead.
Competing versions of the original incident
Final note for tonight: the Ferguson police have released some information on their version of what happened in the Michael Brown shooting. It differs from the version given by Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson. A summary of the competing versions is below (from the ABC 6 report linked above):
Police have said Brown was shot after an officer encountered him and another man on the street. They say one of the men pushed the officer into his squad car, then physically assaulted him in the vehicle and struggled with the officer over the officer’s weapon. At least one shot was fired inside the car. The struggle then spilled onto the street, where Brown was shot multiple times. In their initial news conference about the shooting, police didn’t specify whether Brown was the person who scuffled with the officer in the car and have refused to clarify their account.
Jackson said Wednesday that the officer involved sustained swelling facial injuries.
Dorian Johnson, who says he was with Brown when the shooting happened, has told a much different story. He has told media outlets that the officer ordered them out of the street, then tried to open his door so close to the men that it “ricocheted” back, apparently upsetting the officer. Johnson says the officer grabbed his friend’s neck, then tried to pull him into the car before brandishing his weapon and firing. He says Brown started to run and the officer pursued him, firing multiple times. Johnson and another witness both say Brown was on the street with his hands raised when the officer fired at him repeatedly.
The road ahead looks like a long one.