The St. Louis Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists condemns the arrest of reporter Mike Faulk by St. Louis police during the weekend’s protests and demonstrations.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported that one of their own, reporter Mike Faulk, was caught in a controversial police tactic known as “kettling” on Sunday night. Faulk was on duty covering the protests and the ensuing police action when police apparently blocked all four sides of the intersection.
According to the Post-Dispatch, Faulk and many others were told “move back,” but literally had nowhere to go. Faulk’s own Twitter feed states that no one knew how they were to disperse. “We are closed in on all four sides now, I have no idea where people are supposed to go,” Faulk posted. “People moving toward bike cops, looks like best option.”
Then there was silence, for more than 13 hours.
Faulk reports he was knocked to the ground and pinned by a police officer, with a boot literally on his head. Pinned to the ground, motionless, he was then pepper-sprayed in the face. He was arrested, held overnight in jail, and has since been charged with “failure to disperse.”
The Post-Dispatch has a photograph of Faulk in the process of being arrested. His press credential is clearly visible. Police officers surround him, and yet he was not released. According to Faulk, he was kept in jail for six hours after his editor posted bail, enough time for his family to email Mayor Lyda Krewson calling for his release.
This is not the first time this problem has arisen in our community. In 2014, we saw multiple journalists threatened and illegally ordered to stop reporting and recording; journalists with firearms aimed at them while doing their jobs in approved areas. In the case of two journalists literally arrested while writing their stories in a McDonald’s, the embarrassment of the charges filed against them and eventually dismissed cast yet another shadow on the reputation of St. Louis. Another journalist arrested during Ferguson filed a civil rights suit with the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, and won a settlement in 2015.
The ACLU has also spoken up about the mass arrests and police tactics used in the Stockley protests, citing excessive force and unconstitutional arrests.
There can be no question that Mike Faulk was there in his capacity as a journalist. There can be no question that the police officers containing the situation knew that Faulk was a reporter and that he was no threat to them. He should have been safe by approaching police officers in his efforts to leave the scene as ordered. After all, they were there to protect him, were they not?
Journalism is the only profession protected by name in the Constitution. The First Amendment is not a whimsical academic concept to be dismissed when it becomes inconvenient – or embarrassing to the police. The chilling effect of assaulting, arresting, jailing and charging a journalist in the course of his duties cannot be overstated.
Journalists in high-incident situations are already placing themselves in harm’s way to perform the public service of informing the community. They are on the ground surrounded by some who may be hostile toward them, as we also have seen over the last few days. Since his release, Faulk reportedly has been harassed and threatened online.
Journalists already have much to fear in this brave new world. They should not have to fear the police as well.
The St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists calls for the immediate dismissal of charges against Mike Faulk, and for an investigation into the events of this weekend to determine whether officers violated the Constitutional rights of Faulk or any other citizens. Mayor Krewson has promised that any police misconduct would be investigated, and we hope she remains true to her word. A formal, transparent investigation will serve as a reminder to the officers on duty of their responsibilities to the Constitution of the United States as guardians of the public’s safety.
That means journalists, too.
Contact: Elizabeth Donald, president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists
SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund, or give to the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.
Note: This post has been edited for clarity. -ekd