ANKARA (AA) – As violence between police and protestors in the troubled town of Ferguson ebbs and flows, it is also journalists’ ability to report that is increasingly coming under attack.
Fourteen journalists have been detained by police since protests against the killing of Michael Brown began last week.
The Anadolu Agency’s correspondent Bilgin Sasmaz was beaten by police and held for five hours as he reported on clashes between police and demonstrators in the St Louis, Missouri, suburb.
Sasmaz described attempting to film a police officer who was about to fire on a demonstrator in Ferguson’s West Florissant Avenue, a commercial street where many protests are taking place.
A journalist from Al Jazeera was reportedly threatened by a police officer who said “I will bust your head open” if he will not leave the area.
Civil liberties groups and journalists’ representatives have condemned the police’s targeting of reporters.
“Ferguson is an international story and journalists are going to cover it,” Robert Mahoney, deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said. “They have a right to do so without fearing for their safety or liberty.
“The harassment and detention of reporters must stop. From senior commanders on down, the word must go out to security forces to let journalists do their job.”
Even President Barack Obama added his voice to calls for journalists to be allowed to carry out their duties unhindered.
“Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists just trying to do their jobs,” he said.
Hatem Bazian, a senior lecturer in philosophy and Islamic studies at the University of Berkeley, California, said the United States aims to control news stories to protect its image as a “color-blind society.”
He added: “All that becomes demolished by what is taking place in Ferguson, by what has been taking place for a long period of time: this narrative of thinking of Martın Luther King havıng a dream essentially becomes that of ‘I have a nightmare.’”
With an African-American population of 67 percent, according to the US Census Bureau’s 2010 figures, and a police department that is 87 percent white, Ferguson would seem to provide fertile ground for racial confrontation.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office has revealed that racial profiling was prevalent in Ferguson before the current disturbances. According to the report, of the 5,384 traffic stops carried out by Ferguson police last year, 4,632 involved black drivers compared to 686 involving white drivers.
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