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Wednesday, May 29, 2024 | Back issues
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PEN America Rips|Ferguson Police Response

FERGUSON, Mo. (CN) - The authors' group PEN America on Monday asked the Department of Justice to investigate what it calls widespread police violations of the First Amendment during the protests in Ferguson, Mo.

PEN America released a 34-page report, "Press Under Fire in Ferguson," citing 52 incidents of police violations of freedom of the press.

Sections of the report include Arrest of Journalists, Threatening Conduct by Police Officers, Obstruction of Press Activity, Designated Media Areas/Press Pens, and Obstructing Access to Information.

PEN America says most of the violations occurred between Aug. 12 and Aug. 20, when tensions were highest. Use of pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse unruly protesters became an almost nightly occurrence during that time.

A Department of Justice investigation would "shed essential light on the factors that drove law enforcement officers in Ferguson to infringe on media freedoms, and on the necessary steps to ensure that in an era of instantaneous transmission, cell phone cameras and citizen journalists, the rights of members of the press and of the public at large are upheld in the context of protests and public assemblies," the report states.

It adds: "This investigation should culminate in the formulation of new guidelines for U.S. police departments on respect for media freedoms during public demonstrations. The guidelines should include an explanation of what constitutes an 'act of journalism' and the constitutional protections afforded to anyone engaging in such an act. These guidelines should serve as the basis for police departments to develop new policies on respect for First Amendment freedoms during public demonstrations, trainings on those policies for all officers, and the implementation of disciplinary proceedings for officers who violate the policies."

The Ferguson protests started after Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old black man, was gunned down by white Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. The sometimes violent protests have been a daily occurrence since.

Media relations with police officers patrolling the protests became strained after reporters from The Washington Post and the Huffington Post were arrested Aug. 13 while working at a McDonald's.

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