Stephen Smoot

Reporters from the Washington Post and Huffington Post also were taken into custody. Reporters customarily use McDonalds as bases of operation because of free wifi and available outlets to recharge equipment. Police closing the restaurant arrested the two reporters for not moving quickly enough. The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery described later how an officer slammed him into a soda fountain.

Police refused to give names and badge numbers of the arresting officers.

A sign that officers may be going beyond standard procedure in some cases came from the Ferguson police chief himself. When told by a Los Angeles Times reporter of the treatment meted to the reporters, he replied “Oh God.”

The reporters were released soon after.

Punditry has run the gambit from knee jerk reactions to solid commentary. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, when hearing of the arrest of the two reporters, tweeted about “reporting while black.” This led to criticism from the Washington Examiner’s Beckett Adams who called it “outrageously irresponsible.” He noted that one of the reporters taken into custody was white.

In another commentary, Adams said “unless state and local leaders step up to address Ferguson residents’ concerns over the death of Brown, who was reportedly shot multiple times by a police officer, expect the protests and public displays of frustration to continue.”

Kevin Williamson of National Review, echoed concerns voiced in Huffington Post, Reason, and other outlets for years about the militarization of law enforcement. Part of the underlying problem, he says, is “ridiculously militarized suburban police dressed up like characters from Starship Troopers and pointing rifles at people from atop armored vehicles, i.e. the worst sort of mall ninjas.”

Williamson also wrote that free societies do not operate in secret, they do not arrest people who are peacefully trying to document events as they happen, and government is our servant, not our master.

While many in law enforcement would prefer to be more like Andy Griffith than Samuel L. Jackson, militarization is a systemic problem that affects all police, both the majority of the good and the small minority of the bad. It has helped to provoke this clash between the forces of order and the rights of the press and others conducting themselves peaceably.

It has been a long time since America’s last urban riot. Scenes of violence excite emotional responses. Most reporters cover such events wisely; most police do their jobs with discipline and professionalism. Most of those angry with the Ferguson local government have conducted themselves peacefully. Of the thousands protesting, only a handful have tried to turn protests into violent provocation.

But, fair or not, the excesses of some on all sides tarnish the actions of all. Those following this have to remember to not generalize about all what is seen in the most dramatic images. It is the media’s job to ensure that the public gets a full understanding of the riot.

And it is the job of the media consumer to follow those outlets and journalists that have shown the most discipline in making sure they get the full story.

Stephen Smoot

Dr. Stephen A. Smoot is a columnist, historian, political adviser, and media expert. He lives with his family in West Virginia.