Police In Ferguson Let High-Profile Journalists Go While Charging Regular Folks With Crimes

FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Police watch over demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13,
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 13: Police watch over demonstrators protest the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown on August 13, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday. Ferguson, a St. Louis suburb, has experienced three days of violent protests since the killing. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- On Wednesday night, reporters from The Huffington Post and The Washington Post made national news when police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, assaulted and arrested them for not obeying orders quickly enough. Outrage, a demand for answers and calls for press freedom grew as word of what happened spread on social media. Shortly thereafter, the two men were released, in part, it seemed, due to their high-profile status.

"The chief thought he was doing you two a favor," one officer told them, making clear that their privileged position played a role in why they were let go.

That same night, St. Louis Alderman Antonio French was also arrested. French has been a non-stop presence at the protests, using Twitter to document the community's response to the Aug. 9 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African American teenager. French's arrest, like those of the two journalists, received a significant amount of attention. Although he had to spend the night in jail, he was eventually released without facing any charges.

But French and the two reporters weren't the only ones arrested Wednesday night -- at least 13 other people were picked up as well.

Unfortunately for them, they didn't have the benefit of the media spotlight. They had to spend the night in jail, pay bail and were charged with crimes. Their problems will linger for a few weeks, while they await their court dates.

Liz Peinado works for French, and she and her coworker Meghan Flannery were waiting at the police station for their boss to be released. Both are alumni of Teach for America and had taught in the school district where Brown had just graduated high school. As on other nights, there were a few dozen people there protesting. The crowd was growing, Peinado said, and people were calling for French's release.

Shortly after midnight, a heavily armored Humvee and dozens of officers in full gear showed up and told everyone to leave or be arrested. While most of the crowd dispersed, Peinado told The Huffington Post that she and Flannery decided to stay, sitting on the sidewalk and tweeting what was happening.

"I sat down," she said, "legs crossed, one hand in the air holding a peace sign, one hand holding my phone on Twitter."

They decided to leave when the police said it was their "final warning." Peinado said they were afraid that the officers were going to spray tear gas, so they went to Flannery's car, accompanied by two other people.

Peinado said she was already in the car and Flannery was about to get in when "at least seven armed" police officers surrounded them and told them to get out of the vehicle because they were under arrest.

"I stand at 4'11". I'm a tiny woman," Peinado said. "And they're like, 'Get out of the car.' So I'm like, I have a choice: I can probably get manhandled and hope someone is watching this, or get manhandled and no one is ever going to know about it. So I just got out of the car."

They got into a police van and were driven across the street to headquarters, where they spent the night in a jail cell. There were three women in the cell and only one bed. There was also no toilet paper; Peinado had to ask five times before someone provided it.

"I wish I could describe how cold it was," said Peinado. "They refused to give us blankets because they said they didn't have any. But it was really cold. Everyone in all of the cells was complaining about it."

Peinado and Flannery were released the next morning on $300 bail each. They were charged with failure to comply with police orders and a noise violation.

Umar Lee, a columnist for the St. Louis Evening-Whirl, was also at the protest Wednesday night and was also arrested. He told The Huffington Post that he was charged with the same crimes as Peinado and Flannery.

Ryan Frank, a filmmaker, was there as well and faced identical charges. And like Peinado and Flannery, he said he was actually getting up to leave when he was arrested.

The St. Louis County Police Department, which was in charge of security in Ferguson at the time, did not return a request for comment. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) relieved them of those duties after intense criticism of their heavy-handed, militaristic response to the protests.

Frank posted a video of the arrests on YouTube. Peinado is the woman in denim shirt who gets out of the car, and Lee is shown being handcuffed at the end:

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