U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Fusion video journalist pushed into wall and detained by St. Louis police

Incident Details

Chris Burke

Chris Burke

September 17, 2017

Chris Burke — a videographer working for Fusion — was forcibly pushed into a wall, handcuffed, and detained by police while covering protests in St. Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 17, 2017.

The protest was a response to the acquittal in September of of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a black man.

Burke told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that he was part of a group of photojournalists who were moving alongside demonstrators as they marched in downtown St. Louis on Sept. 17.

“We were obviously journalists”, Burke said, adding that the group was easily identifiable as press because many of them wore press badges and carried cameras and video equipment.

Burke said the police presence swelled in size as the demonstrators moved away from downtown St. Louis. When the march turned a corner, he said, police drove an unmarked van into the crowd and began shooting pepper spray balls at the crowd.

“They pepper balled journalists as well as protesters,” Burke said.

Burke said that he was not hit by any of the balls, but he saw several journalists who were.

Burke said that he was later detained along with another photojournalist, Davis Winborne, after police enclosed a group of demonstrators and journalists. Burke said that police let some journalists leave the area but pushed him and Winborne into a brick wall.

Burke said that he felt one officer press his thumb behind his jawline.

“It seemed like he was trying to find a pressure point,” he said.

Burke said that, when he asked the officer to remove his hand from his jaw, the officer ordered him to put his hands behind his back and handcuffed him. He also said that police used aggressive and profane language, calling Burke and Winborne “bitches.”

According to Burke, he and several journalists were loaded into a police van and detained for about 30 minutes.

“They never read us our rights, and it seemed like the police were trying to scare us,” he said.

Burke said that he was eventually released after another photojournalist, Marcus DiPaola, was vouched for his identity. Burke also said that a police officer apologized to him after he was released.

Burke told the Freedom of the Press Foundation that the tactics used by the St. Louis police on September 17 seemed “pretty aggressive,” relative to previous protests that he has covered in other cities.

“They felt like scare tactics, to make sure media doesn’t get in the way anymore,” he said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].