Gerald Trey Yingst, a journalist with the News2Share website, was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, while covering a demonstration on 22 November during the wait for the grand jury decision not to indict a white policeman who gunned down an unarmed African-American teenager.
Reporters Without Borders condemns his arrest and interviews him below.
The police said Yingst failed to respect an order to disperse. Yingst and witnesses deny this, and video footage shows they are right. Denise Reese, a journalist with RT’s Ruptly video agency, was also arrested for doing her job on 26 November.
In August, Reporters Without Borders condemned the arbitrary arrests of 15 journalists during the demonstrations in Ferguson that immediately followed Michael Brown’s death. President Obama said at the time: “Police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their job.”
Claire San Filippo, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Americas desk, said: “The police must let journalists do their work of gathering information and cover the rioting for the public. We urge the US authorities to not leave police abuses unpunished and to do everything possible to guarantee the safety of journalists during protests.”
Extracts from the interview with Yingst:
I was standing on the sidewalk when I saw a police officer coming towards me, yelling at people in the street. I thought I was doing the right thing as I was on the sidewalk but apparently I was supposed to be on the other sidewalk. It was very unclear. Then I was arrested and taken to jail. It did not make a lot of sense.
They took me to jail for four hours. I had never been to jail before. I was booked, got a mugshot. Originally I was charged with ‘failure to disperse’ and then with ‘unlawful assembly.’ It was very unclear why. A protester who was also charged with ‘unlawful assembly’ had hit a police cruiser earlier in the night.
The police were very inaccurate on how they reported what happened but thankfully there was a video to prove that I was on the sidewalk the whole time (...) and not on the street. I was wearing my media credentials and had a camera. That in my mind was an appropriate ID for a journalist.
I was there in August and I was aware that other journalists had been arrested then but I never thought it would happen to me. It did not cross my mind that I was making a statement: I was just doing my job.
Even though I was arrested for doing my job, I am going to continue to cover Ferguson because it is important to me. I hope my arrest can be used as an example of things that are not right. I hope the police recognize that and do not arrest journalists in the future for doing their job.
The United States is ranked 46th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, 13 places lower than in the 2013 index.