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Ferguson Offers Stark Lessons for the Nation on Press and Citizen Freedoms

PHOTO: Many Michiganders have joined the cries of those in Ferguson, Missouri for an end to police brutality, including hundreds who recently gathered in Detroit's Hart Plaza and marched up Woodward Avenue. Photo credit: D. Holland.
PHOTO: Many Michiganders have joined the cries of those in Ferguson, Missouri for an end to police brutality, including hundreds who recently gathered in Detroit's Hart Plaza and marched up Woodward Avenue. Photo credit: D. Holland.
August 19, 2014

DETROIT - As clashes continue on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, where protesters and reporters have been assaulted, arrested and tear-gassed, many Michiganders are joining the fight as experts caution what happened in Ferguson could happen anywhere.

David Cullier is the president of the Society of Professional Journalists, and he says in cities across the nation every day, journalists are prevented from doing their job because of police who don't understand or don't uphold the freedom of the press.

"This really isn't about the press versus the police," says Cullier. "This is the citizenry versus the police, and we all need to remember that."

Several Detroit-area pastors have traveled to Ferguson to join the protests on-site, while rallies have been held in Detroit's Hart Plaza and on the city's east side, near the site of a police-involved shooting. The Ferguson protests began in reaction to the police shooting of unarmed teenager named Michael Brown.

Cullier says it's not just reporters and camera crews who face this sort of harassment, now that almost every person carries a recording device of some sort.

"That person is likely or possibly going to be equally accosted and arrested by police, their phone taken away, told to delete their images," says Cullier. "The difference is most citizens don't realize they have a right to record events in public."

The Detoit-based group By Any Means Necessary says it will continue to hold nightly vigils in the city to protest police brutality.

As part of the mission to promote the free flow of information, Cullier says his organization has provided training for law enforcement, journalists and citizens in a half dozen communities on the rights and responsibilities for anyone to photograph or take video in public, and has offered to hold such a training in Ferguson.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI