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Officials in Ferguson are threatening reporters with jail time. Have they learned nothing?

Scott Olson/Getty Images

Different people are commemorating the one-year anniversary of the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in different ways. Black Lives Matter organized more protests in the St. Louis suburb. Michael Brown's family mourned the death of their son to police one year ago. Some people are showing their support for law enforcement.

And St. Louis County officials are prosecuting reporters for doing their jobs.

The Washington Post's Mark Berman on Monday reported that St. Louis County officials have filed charges against Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly for arrests that happened one year ago. On August 13, 2014, Lowery and Reilly had been sitting at a McDonald's in Ferguson, covering the protests outside, when police arrived and told them to leave. Lowery and Reilly said they tried to comply, but officers arrested them, and later let both men go. Now, nearly one year later, officials are charging Lowery and Reilly for trespassing and interfering with a police officer, which carry a possible fine of $1,000 and up to a year in a county jail.

"Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous," Martin Baron, executive editor of the Post, said in a statement on Monday. "You'd have thought law enforcement authorities would have come to their senses about this incident. Wes Lowery should never have been arrested in the first place. That was an abuse of police authority."

But this is, of course, not the first time St. Louis County and Ferguson officials have been accused of abusing their power. The Ferguson protests began when a white police officer shot Michael Brown, which people saw as an abuse of police powers. Cops then tear-gassed the mostly peaceful protesters, which people saw as an abuse of police powers. Police then arrested reporters as they covered the protests, which people saw as an abuse of police powers. And law enforcement now want reporters to show up to court for the year-old arrest, which, once again, people see as an abuse of police powers.

Combined with the many racial disparities in the criminal justice system, it's easy to see why there's so much anger and distrust toward police in black communities across the country.

But this isn't just bad for Lowery, Reilly, and abstract ideas about press freedom. It's also bad for police: Distrust makes it less likely the community will cooperate with them during future investigations.

That concern has been driving new efforts to reform police and rebuild trust. Last year, the US Department of Justice launched the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to promote community cooperation and reduce bias in policing. The Obama administration has also encouraged the use of police body cameras and better data collection of police shootings to increase transparency and accountability. And the administration limited local and state police departments' access to military-grade equipment to address concerns raised by overly aggressive police during the protests in Ferguson.

But these measures can only go so far. Law enforcement officials also have to show they're committed to rebuilding community relations with their actions. Charging reporters with crimes for year-old arrests doesn't demonstrate that commitment.

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