The First Amendment was cast aside on Saturday night in Baltimore, as credentialed journalist Ford Fischer of News2Share was abducted by police under the false pretense of violating the city – wide curfew. The Baltimore Police Dept had exempted members of the press in possession of official credentials immediately after the curfew went into effect on Tuesday night. Clearly, something is amiss.
Fischer’s credentials (Andrew is his given name, Ford is a nickname) are authentic and even recognized by the White House.
Fischer, who was filming from a safe distance and not interfering with police business, was attempting to document the reality of what was going on in the city — something which couldn’t be done from the confines of the ‘designated media area’ which had been cordoned off the previous night. Without the ability for the press to move freely and document the reality of the situation, potential for police to abuse their power goes unchecked.
From the beginning of the video, it becomes apparent such abuse is common, as police use pepper spray against people who are already following their orders to disburse. Shortly after this, they even forcefully shove someone in the back, who, though in the process of leaving the area, apparently wasn’t moving quickly enough to suit them.
The incident leading to Fischer’s false arrest begins with someone lobbing a bottle at the police. After an MRAP pulls around the corner, the group of officers initiate a pursuit, with Fischer rolling tape alongside them. A still shot from the video along the way shows two young protesters cowering against a building as a cop points his gun directly at them.
The pursuit winds through several side streets, and ends when police pin the suspect down in order to make an arrest. Fischer approaches, but as to be expected, almost immediately is told by the several police in full tactical gear to “Back up” and “You’re interfering”, despite his distance and neutrality.
Even after they bully him further down the street, the harassment continues and they all begin demanding “Where’s your credentials?” “Show me your credentials!” and even incredulously “Who do you work for?” At the same time as the officer holding his ID says “He’s credentialed media”, another who had approached from behind, shoves Fischer to the ground, appropriately saying
“I don’t care”.
Film stops as he’s placed in handcuffs on the ground, and starts again when Trey Yingst (Trey is the nickname he uses, but his given first name is Gerald as heard on tape) takes over. While Fischer is pinned to the ground, officers cut the straps on his equipment backpack, rather than briefly uncuffing him to allow him to remove it. Yingst repeatedly asks what Fischer is being charged with, and each time officers say “curfew violation” — a direct contradiction of the exception for properly credentialed media. Later that night, upon realizing they had no grounds for detaining Fischer, police arbitrarily switch the charge to a civil citation for disorderly conduct — a penalty that carries a sizable $500 fine, which he can choose to pay or go to trial.
Violations of our constitutionally protected freedoms occur more and more frequently, and it’s rather ironic that a journalist tasked with documenting those abuses winds up on the receiving end. Without freedom for the media to give people a voice when they’ve been victimized by the police state, the cries for justice and change will go unheard. An exception to sweeping curfew restrictions is completely nullified when the media is herded into a tiny pen ‘for their safety’. As if that weren’t insult enough, abducting a journalist under false pretenses is wholly inexcusable. No one is safe. Even those dubbed ‘cop apologists’ are subject to the same arbitrary abuse and random brutalization by the very police they place on a golden pedestal. This entire country desperately needs to come to terms with the fact there is a corrupt and oppressive government currently holding it hostage.
Article published by Claire Bernish for The Pontiac Tribune