President Obama defended the freedom of the press Monday following another violent night in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded – especially in moments like these,” he said during a press conference at the White House. “There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully.”
As late-night clashes boiled over between law enforcement officials and protesters, journalists covering the fallout of Michael Brown’s shooting death unexpectedly found themselves in the line of fire.
Sunday began with peaceful protests seeking justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American shot and killed by a white police officer on Aug. 9. But the situation – capped off by shootings, Molotov cocktails and tear gas - escalated throughout the evening. According to multiple reports, local officers threatened to mace members of the media – including msnbc host Chris Hayes.In a caught-on-camera moment, an officer screamed, “Media do not pass us. You’re getting maced next time you pass us.”
Armed with recording equipment, phones and social media accounts at their fingertips, journalists flooded their feeds with updates on tense interactions with police officers.
Amanda Terkel of The Huffington Post also reported getting the same promise of being sprayed with mace if she got too close.
Neil Munshi of The Financial Times live-tweeted his arrest.
Sports Illustrated’s Robert Klemko, another journalist who got cuffed on the job, suggested the crowd was obeying orders before being arrested.
Rob Crilly of the Telegraph tweeted that an officer pointed a gun straight at him right before he was arrested.
An unverified video posted to YouTube appears to show a visibly angry officer shouting, “Get the f*** out of here … you’re in our way.” At one point, he raises his gun in the air and suggests media will be shot if they don’t move away from the scene.
The tense scene prompted a change of plans from Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon. On Monday, he called in the National Guard to help restore order. The soldiers will oversee the police command center throughout the night to allow police the ability to ensure peaceful protests.
“Last night, Ferguson, Missouri experienced a very difficult and dangerous night as a result of a violent criminal element intent upon terrorizing the community. As long as there are vandals and looters and threats to the people and property of Ferguson, we must take action to protect our citizens,” Nixon said in a statement.