This just in: Why journalists should be allowed to do their job

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Dan Plutchak | August 21, 2014

Scott Olson, a photojournalist from Rockton, just south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, was detained Monday by police while covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Olson, a 1978 Hononegah High School graduate who works for Getty Images, has taken some of the most dramatic images from Ferguson after Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen, was shot and killed by police.

Olson was back at work a short time later, and no charges have been filed.

"Last night I was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri, for being a member of the press in a public place and mingling with the public, rather than in a pen where officials had hoped to confine the press," Olson wrote on the Getty Images website. "I strongly believe in the First Amendment and the freedom of the press and chose to question the officer ordering me into the pen. I was released after a few hours --  
in time to return to Ferguson and capture some more images -- not from inside a media pen but out with the public."

At least 11 journalists have been arrested since protests began.

The intense media coverage of the unrest in Ferguson has raised issues in communities throughout the country.

Nationally, there's been increased discussion of the militarization of local law enforcement. That became an issue in the recent primary race for Rock County sheriff, when challenger Gary Groelle questioned the wisdom of the sheriff's office joining the Janesville and Beloit police departments in the purchase of a military-style vehicle  
described as an 18,000-pound, bulletproof rescue vehicle. Law enforcement hailed it as a new tool for modern times, but Groelle and others argued the money would be better spent on replacing old sidearms.

At the heart of the Ferguson confrontations is the relationship between police and the community. That's not unique to Ferguson. In Beloit, police and community members have had inconsistent success in stemming this summer's string of gun violence. At a community rally at Summit Park a week ago, neighborhood leaders urged community  
members to stop sheltering those accused in several of the recent killings. That goes hand in hand with police building trust with those they are sworn to protect.

Brown's death also has spurred discussion of what people should expect when in contact with authorities. The events of that evening remain in dispute and there are plenty of opinions on what should have happened.

Sunil Dutta, a 17-year-veteran with the Los Angeles Police Department, wrote in an essay this week in the Washington Post that the easiest way for people to not to get hurt is to do what police say. "I'm a cop. If you don't want to get hurt, don't challenge me," reads the headline.

What many are asking, however, is what is the appropriate punishment. Is deadly force an appropriate response for dealing with unruly subjects? Most would say no, and a grand jury this week began its investigation into exactly what happened leading up to Brown's death.

When they arrested Olson, police claimed he was preventing them from doing their work, but with professionally trained journalists, that's rarely the case.

"In any free country the balance between providing police protection with integrity and over zealous enforcement is delicate. It is one thing for officers to act when there is reasonable suspicion; it is quite another to abuse that discretion by chilling free speech and creating a climate of fear and distrust under the pretext of safety and security," Mickey H. Osterreicher, legal council for the National Press Photographers Association wrote in a letter to Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson.

Allowing journalists to do their job is just as important in building the trust to strengthen communities as law enforcement itself.

In many ways, journalists and law enforcement are working toward the same ends, which seems to have been forgotten in Olson's case.

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