Criminal Justice

'OK, let’s take him': Post reporter recounts his arrest at Ferguson McDonald’s

A Washington Post reporter was arrested Wednesday at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, Missouri, while charging his cellphone. He says police asked him for identification; ordered him to stop recording video; then told him to leave and slammed him into a soda machine while cuffing him.

Reporter Wesley Lowery recounts his arrest and that of Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly in a Washington Post story. The reporters were in Ferguson covering developments amid unrest over the fatal shooting Saturday of an 18-year-old unarmed man by a police officer. Protesters and police had clashed each night after the shooting near the restaurant.

Armed police officers entered the McDonald’s on Wednesday and asked Lowery and Reilly for identification. Lowery had on his media lanyard, but Reilly asked why he had to show an ID. Police walked away then returned, telling Lowery and Reilly they had to leave.

Lowery began recording the police, and one officer told him to stop. “Officer, do I not have the right to record you?” Lowery responded. Police allowed the recording. The video shows an officer showing impatience as he repeatedly orders Lowery to leave.

As Lowery gathered his belongings and headed to the door, one officer told him to exit left, but another blocked his path and told him to go another way. Lowery explains what happened next:

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.

Lowery and Reilly were transported to the Ferguson Police Department with a woman who wore a clergy’s collar and sang hymns along the way. At the police station, the reporters asked why they were detained and were told they had been trespassing at McDonald’s. The two reporters were placed in a holding cell for what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes until a processing officer arrived.

“Who’s media?” the officer asked. The reporters were allowed to leave.

Broadcast journalists from Al Jazeera America were also tear-gassed by police Wednesday night. A video shot by a KDSK news crew which was setting up nearby shows the tear gas canisters landing directly in front of the Al Jazeera journalists. The KDSK reporters said the Al Jazeera journalists were shouting, “We’re the press!” as the tear gas was fired. After the Al Jazeera news crew fled, leaving their news van and equipment behind, the KDSK video shows police officers turning off the crew’s light kit and pointing their camera at the ground.

The police then approached the KDSK reporters “with guns drawn” and said they’d received reports that media members were in danger and needed assistance. “All three members of the KSDK crew say they were never in danger and never asked for assistance.”

Related article: “Are police in Ferguson violating the Constitution?”

Updated at 11:14 a.m. to add details about the Al Jazeera America news crew.

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