O’FALLON PARK – For many mainstream media companies, Ferguson was an opportunity for the nation to witness a moment of history, but it’s been well documented by St. Louisans that some of the things that were reported were inaccurate. However, Wesley Lowery went from covering the story through from the outside looking in to, in some cases, being a part of it.
This moment in the reporter’s life would not only thrust him into the forefront for nationally covering the intersection of law enforcement and race, but would leave his imprint in St. Louis and Ferguson by using his skills to document what truly happened and much more.
Fresh off of covering stories such as the Boston bombings and Aaron Hernandez’ murder case for the Boston Globe, Lowery began his tenure for the Washington Post in the summer of 2014.
“The Michael Brown shooting was my first story covering law enforcement and race for the Post,” the reporter said. “They sent me to Ferguson two days after the shooting.”
Lowery’s coverage of Ferguson for the Post began with reports of the police. His coverage kicked up a notch after he was arrested on Aug. 13th. Compared with the many days of chaos that ensued during the protests, the reporter’s fourth day was fairly calm, with peaceful protests along West Florissant Avenue.
That is, until he went into a McDonald’s, where Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly unpacked their gear to recharge.
“We saw the SWAT team enter the McDonald’s,” Lowery said. “They were telling us to leave. … When I talked to them, they told us that if we were to call 911, they would not respond here.” The McDonald’s was in the middle of a dinner rush, and there didn’t seem to be much of a threat, so the SWAT team left. But they returned minutes later, telling everyone to clear out.
Both reporters had a heated back-and-forth with two officers, with Lowery recording the altercation moments before attempting to leave the McDonald’s. In the clip, a SWAT member repeats “Let’s go” multiple times before trying to lead out. Moments before the two reporters could leave, both were detained.
Although they were released about 30 to 40 minutes after being thrown into a holding cell, Lowery’s and Reilly’s arrests were among many that brought attention to Ferguson through social media as well as mainstream coverage.
After the arrest, what seemed to be a five-day assignment turned into a three-month-long covering of Ferguson’s outcry, Michael Brown’s court case and the aftermath of both.
“I had to see the end of this, Lowery said. “I couldn’t just be arrested and cover this like a normal story anymore.”
For Lowery, Ferguson was a foreshadowing of a critical topic that he would continue to cover through his five years with the Washington Post. For him and the editorial team behind the “Fatal Force” project, Michael Brown’s shooting and the Ferguson coverage was a precursor for what inspired an official database that documented police shootings in the country. The work earned the team a Pulitzer Prize in 2016, a year after the database was created, revealing more than 994 victims of police shootings in 2015 alone.
Lowery continues to cover racial injustice and published “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement,” a book that follows his journey through Ferguson and Baltimore after the killing there of Freddie Gray.