The National Association of Black Journalists expresses concern with the decision by prosecutors in St. Louis County, Mo. to charge Wesley Lowery of The Washington Post with trespassing and interfering with a police officer.The charges stem from an incident that took place as Lowery, 25, was in Ferguson, Mo. in 2014 to report on the shooting death of Michael Brown, a black teen, by a white police officer.”Reporters have every right to do their jobs, pursue the truth and publish it,” NABJ President Sarah Glover said.The association is troubled by the action taken by prosecutors and believe it to be
a direct assault on the free exercise of the First Amendment, which ensures journalists can practice their craft. Journalists understand citizens, including journalists, must respect the rule of law, but as the Supreme Court of the United States noted in its 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes,”… without some protection for seeking out the news, freedom of the press could be eviscerated.”
The organization believes Lowery acted reasonably in pursuit of news and information needed by the public in the aftermath of the shooting death of Brown and in light of ensuing unrest in Ferguson. The initial decision to release Lowery without filing charges also suggests that authorities themselves believed that his initial arrest could have been an abuse of power and discretion. The organization encourages local officials to drop the charges filed against Lowery so journalists can operate without fear that doing their jobs will lead to them being jailed.
Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron called the charges “outrageous.” Lowery is a former NABJ board member.
An advocacy group established in 1975 in Washington, D.C., NABJ is the largest organization for journalists of color in the nation, and provides career development as well as educational and other support to its members worldwide.