This past Saturday, September 28th, Contra reporter and community activist Bassem Masri was arrested near his Ferguson, MO home on traffic charges and held at St. Louis Justice Center until his release the next day. Under normal circumstances, such events would be considered typical. But despite the apparent simplicity of Bassem’s case, further scrutiny and surmounting evidence would suggest that Bassem has been targeted by local and state police forces in Missouri for his live streaming and up-close coverage of Ferguson protests.
Bassem has been reporting for and working with Contra since early August, maintaining a consistent presence at the nightly events in Ferguson and surrounding areas. Over the last two months, Bassem has become a prominent figure in the ongoing protests, earning him more than 2,000 followers on Twitter and the recognition of campaigners across the city. His live streams have attracted thousands of viewers and brought particular attention to the actions of police throughout the protests.
On the night of September 27th, Bassem and friends Tef Poe and King Seals were stopped by several police officers after picking up a police radio that had fallen from a police car. The three were initially accused of theft, but when they were allowed an explanation, no arrests were made. Nine police cars were sent for the detainment. However, all three were asked for identification, and Bassem did not have his. Bassem admitted to having warrants, but the police could not find them when attempting to arrest him, and he was ultimately let go.
The following morning, as Bassem and Tef left their house for work, state troopers stopped and arrested Bassem, citing warrants that Ferguson police could not find the previous night. Bassem’s car was left in the street and though he was told his car would be locked and his property secure, it was ultimately left unlocked by the police which resulted in the theft of most of his personal property, including an iPad, his clothing, several cameras, and other streaming equipment .
Bassem spent more than twelve hours in the St. Louis Justice Center before he was released; however, the warrants for his arrest were not closed, and he was released without a cleared name. This is all considerably unusual, since traffic cases are typically neglected on weekends in favor of more grievous crimes, and since the county judge is not present.
Given the fact that the warrants for his arrest were new, the police who arrested him near his home were St. Louis City rather than local police, and the warrants under his name were not cleared, it would seem that Bassem has become a target of the local police.
Bassem has noted that on several occasions he has been “pointed out” specifically by police officers in the protests, owing to his prominent presence at the front lines of the protests for the past month. In addition, many of his colleagues, such as @AnonCopWatch and Rev. Osagyefo Sekou have been arrested recently under similarly overdrawn charges. He has stated that the arrest will not affect his presence and he has also received over a thousand dollars in donations from around the country to purchase higher quality streaming equipment to continue his work.
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