Michael Brown Shooting

Why Are There No News Helicopters Over Ferguson?


Reason Magazine

One of the strangest things about the tense situation in Ferguson, Missouri, in which heavily armed cops, and now the national guard, have clashed with protestors in the wake of the police shooting of an unarmed teenager nine days ago, is that there have been no overhead shots of the action. We've seen maps of the town, with graphics explaining where the demonstrators are, and where the police have gathered. But we've seen none of the context-setting live aerial news photography that we typically see at major news events.

There's a reason for that. Last week, when the protests began, the Federal Aviation Administration banned low-flying vehicles—vehicles like news helicopters—below 3,000 feet over Ferguson airspace, in order "to provide a safe environment for law enforcement activities." The no-fly-zone was created at the request of local law enforcement, following a police report that a police chopper had been shot at. Yesterday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon renewed the ban, citing the same police-safety justification.

The police safety justification is hard to buy. What possible threat could a news helicopter, circling hundreds or thousands of feet above the scene, be to the activities on the ground? If anything, helicopters, which would not block emergency vehicles, which would not get in the way of cops or crowds, which would remain at a remove from the action, would be safer than the rest of the media.

No, safety isn't the issue. That's not what this is about. It's about local law enforcement not wanting to be watched—and not wanting media to capture a complete picture of the scene.

As it stands, media can't always follow police off the main road in Ferguson and into the side neighborhoods, where police have sometimes pushed protestors, using tear gas in residential areas. The media can't show overhead images that give a full sense of how occupied the main part of the town is. The media can't show an overhead shot of a street-wide column of riot cops advancing on a relatively small group protestors, which is what appears to have happened late last night.

I say "appears" because, watching multiple news networks from my home in Washington, D.C., it wasn't possible to tell exactly what was happening. A row of armed and armored law enforcement formed up, some with shotguns drawn and pointed forward, and began to push down the street while a man with a bullhorn ordered protestors to disperse. On CNN, anchor Don Lemon attempted to describe what he could see, but he couldn't get access to the scene. And while it was happening, press were being ordered back to their designated areas, then told that they would also have to clear out from where they had set up operations. They weren't being allowed to watch. They weren't being allowed to report what they saw. 

The entire chaotic night, which featured more than 30 arrests, gunshots, and heavy use of tear gas—including some that wafted into the media area, causing national news correspondents to don gas masks for their reporting—played out on TV in scattered and fragmented fashion. The overall action was never clear. We'd see something happen in one part of town, then hear reports that some separate conflict was occurring in another. But in many cases, neither reporters nor camera crews could get there.

News helicopters would have made that possible. News helicopters would let journalists and viewers follow the action, from place to place, from eruption to eruption, as it happened, providing a clearer, more coherent view than the ground-locked cameras that are being used now. It's hard to justify banning those images from being recorded and shown. 

But banning their use is frustratingly consistent with the bullying behavior we've seen from law enforcement against media in Ferguson so far. Over the last week, we've seen clear video evidence of reporters being arrested and illegally ordered to stop filming, of cops threatening to mace and shoot members of the media, of major news network anchors being forcibly pushed from their locations in the middle of live shots. It keeps happening, even as the situation drags on. Last night, Intercept reporter Ryan Devereaux was shot with beanbags and taken into custody. On CNN, reporter Jake Tapper was struck by teargas.

At this point it seems fair to say that local law enforcement officials in Ferguson don't like the national press. Late last night, MSNBC anchor Craig Melvin described a conversation with a law enforcement official in which the official told Melvin that the police believed that the media presence was "exacerbating"—Melvin's word—the situation. Melvin said the official indicated that they were considering changing the way media are handled going forward.

Think about that for a minute. The cops apparently believe the media is exacerbating the situation. They want to manage the media presence. Not their own.

Let's be fair. It's not that the heavy media presence has no effect. But the protests, which started immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown two weekends ago, existed before the media circus began—and the local cops showed up dressed for war. That's where the exacerbation began.

This is, of course, not a media story first and foremost. It's a story about people who are upset because a young unarmed man was shot at least six times, and killed, by a police officer after being stopped for jaywalking. And part of the reason they are upset is that police have been so unwilling to come forth with basic information—taking days to release the name of the officer involved in the shooting, not releasing a full and detailed account of the shooting itself. The shooting details we have were released as a result of an independent autopsy, ordered by the family. 

The protestors in Ferguson want to know what happened. And the people watching the protests on TV across the nation and the world want to know what is happening. That's what the press is there for: to watch, to record, to report.

But the cops seem irritated by the presence of professional watchers, showing the world what's happening, and have intimidated them, restricted their access, and shut down traditional points of view. They don't want helicopters flying overhead. They don't really seem to like allowing media any presence at all. It's almost as if they don't want a clear picture of what's happening, and what they're doing, to emerge.

Update: I've updated the post to note that police reported that a police helicopter was fired on the first Sunday night of the protests. This is still a pretty thin justification for banning news helicopters. If the issue is that helicopters over the scene draw fire, and thus need to be removed, then why are the police still flying their own chopper over the protests? And if the media are in danger from armed protestors while in helicopters, aren't they in at least as much, and arguably even more, danger when reporting on the ground? 

NEXT: Uneasy 24-Hour Truce Between Israel, Palestine

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  1. Here is the deeper issue. How the hell does a small town police department have the ability to go VFR direct to the FAA and have the flight rules changed?

    1. Someone in the White House wants the lid kept on it, perhaps. It’s one thing when a black teen is killed in questionable circumstances by a whitish civilian, quite another when the shooter is a member of the protected class of domestic enforcers whom he has little to gain by vilifying.

      1. It’s one thing when a black teen is killed in questionable circumstances by a whitish civilian, quite another when the shooter is a member of the protected class of domestic enforcers

        The fact that the shooter is member of a protected class is the entirety of the issue, loathe as racialists are to admit it and forgo their newly acquired moral bargaining chip.

        1. Those helicopters might show something that contradicted the leftoid narrative, much better to just proselytize about it.

          1. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Eric Holder and Barry, the racialist dreamteam, is on the job.

          2. Does right and left have something to do with this? What is “the leftoid narrative”?

            1. You’re seriously na?ve if you think it doesn’t. The leftoids have been all over this thing, since they needed an excuse to stir up racial hatred in the country again–what with elections coming up and all.

    2. That is an excellent question. I thought the first story was that a helicopter was fired upon, hence the restrictions. Was that a fabrication, and if so does anybody know on whose part(s)?

      1. The “someone took a shot at a helicopter” is one of the biggest lies the gullible media reports. I am unaware of any actual case of someone shooting at a helicopter even though the media claims it happens during nearly any disaster or riot, especially if it involves black people.

        The media really worries about the angry Negroes shooting down helicopters. They practically wet their pants about it during Katrina, even though it never happened.

        1. Only because we’re so cautious. They’re out there with their homemade PVC launchers and Molotov rockets, ready to drop the boom the second our attention wavers.

        2. I’m aware of one case in our area. The shooter thought the terrorists were invading.

      2. They’ve shot at the police, they’ve shot at each other. I would imagine if they can see a chopper a mile away they’ll probably shoot at it. The odds of anyone actually hitting one is about the same as the odds Obama will repeal Obamacare but we aren’t talking about a bunch of people who have the slightest clue about ballistics other than point and pull the trigger, and anyone between shooter and chopper will be a possible target.

        That’s not a statement on the merits of the policy, it’s just something to consider.

        1. yeah, I can see that, like during the first Gulf War when dozens of Iraqis were injured when struck by rounds fired into the sky by morons.(What goes up must come down, and at the same velocity it went up at, minus air friction.) But basic science is a bit beyond the comprehension of those firing those rounds in the first place. The problem is that we have two groups of people opposing the SS in Ferguson: the first group is legitimately upset, and demanding answers and change, the second group is comprised of thugs who wish to use the disorder to pillage and riot. Watching the news, I was struck by how many young men I saw running and trying to pull up their pants at the same time.

          1. Myth busted. Mythbusters tested rounds shot into the air, and it has to be a wide arc to be dangerous. Straight up caused the bullet to tumble if I recall correctly, and it never regained stability, so the loss to friction was huge. It believe it started to become less dangerous with angles over 45 degrees, but you’d have to look that up.

        2. Who are “they”?

    3. Statist solidarity. All the petty infighting stops when it’s time to put the little people in their place.

    4. You say “small town police department” but most just see the local branch of “law enforcement”, that group of heroes that has our best interests at heart. If they say the helicopters have to go, then it would be un-American to say otherwise.

    5. This is unsurprising. Colleges put in no fly zone requests to the FAA over their stadiums on gameday.

      What do you want to bet that there’s a template from the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency for riots/disturbances that includes requesting airspace restriction?

      This isn’t really about police safety. What possible threat could a news helicopter, circling hundreds or thousands of feet above, be to the activities on the ground?

      They’ll claim it would interfere with their air support. Or potential aeromedical evacuations. Why do you hate bleeding victims, Suderman? Why don’t you want them to get the best and quickest care possible?

      1. Now that you say that, yes. All of your points and more.

    6. Easy.

      Have some numbskull SHOOT AT A HELICOPTER. That’s what happened, and that’s why the FAA put out the restriction over the area.

    7. Hmmm, maybe the fact that people can watch, on hand-held devices, what is broadcast by news stations, and know where the concentration and movements of the police are, thus able to direct their own activities elsewhere, could be the “safety” the authorities are concerned about.
      Nah, these are cops, to REASON posters, the dumbest, most vile, ruthless people on the planet and not capable of anything but suppressing anything and anyone they see.

      1. Damn your facts and logic! All cops are just jackbooted thugs bent on taking over the country!

    1. What are the problems with deploying a surveillance drone AND NOT GETTING CAUGHT? I imagine the first one to show up will be shot down, then the next one will be followed by police helicopter and the landing zone raided.

      1. Use cheap drones and consider them disposable. Stream back your footage and then park them on a random roof somewhere. They can only follow it back if you bring it back, so don’t do that.

  2. I think some word endings and even some whole words are missing.

    Eds. may want to give this a once-over.

  3. So… you like to watch?

  4. It’s almost as if they don’t want a clear picture of what’s happening, and what they’re doing, to emerge.


  5. I don’t really care what Brown did or didn’t do at this point and whether the shooting was justified or not is still up for debate (I think?), but their (cops) absolute lack of transparency and their insistence on treating their town like Falluja makes me hate the cops on a visceral level that I didn’t think was possible.

    1. Yeah, at this point no matter *what* comes out about the shooting, nothing else the police have done in this whole fiasco can possibly be justified. It started with stonewalling on the shooting itself, which created the fertile ground for protests in the first place, and now they’re into full-on, shameless “civilians are the enemy” mode. Nobody involved in this nonsense should ever be allowed to hold a cap-gun for as long as they live.

      1. Makes you wonder where the lawsuits are. You can bet if they arrested me for peaceably assembling and protesting I’d be filing a First Amendment lawsuit. They don’t actually have the power to restrict peaceful assemblies, or even restrict where people can assemble. They certainly don’t have the power to place the media in cages, but the media are lapdogs that wouldn’t dare bite the hand that feeds them.

        1. ” They don’t actually have the power to restrict peaceful assemblies, or even restrict where people can assemble.”

          They are acquiring the power. That’s what this is all about.

        2. The second “protesters” set one foot onto a street, for the reason of disrupting traffic, or go onto private property, against the wishes of the owner, the whole “peaceable” thing is out the window.
          Protesting is Constitutionally protected ONLY as long as no laws are broken – that’s what “peaceable” means.

    2. I would take some silver lining from the fact that the government’s lack of transparency is on display, which should motivate the populace against the excesses of our police state. But, their has barely been a whimper from most Americans on the WH lack of transparency, so I suppose no silver lining.

      1. Eh, I wouldn’t go too far with that. The same political group that rails against “big government” is the same political group that is totally OK with the police response in Ferguson, and doesn’t hold the killer cop liable for his own actions.

        And the political group that is generally OK with big government is the same group that thinks only the cops should have guns.

        Really looks dim from this perspective…

        1. What is dim is the wit of anyone who doesn’t see the difference between a big, far away, federal, over-regulating government and the local, close to the voters, police-controlling one.

  6. We need citizen drones documenting the scene from above. Shouldn’t be difficult for someone to hook that up.

    1. Unfortunately for you, the looted liquor stores were fresh out of citizen drones.

  7. What possible threat could a news helicopter, circling hundreds or thousands of feet above, be to the activities on the ground?

    Obviously, the domestic terrorists will be watching in real time,and find exploitable weak spots in the police formation through which to send their hordes of suicide bombers.

    1. Obviously, the domestic terrorists will be watching in real time,and find exploitable weak spots in the police formation through which to send their hordes of suicide bombers protestor.

      1. +s *grumble*

    2. The police are the domestic terrorists.

  8. The drone operators would have to expect jailtime if/when the cops caught them. Expect considerable police resources to be focused on that effort. Sort of like the way the feds treat whistleblowers.

    1. Yep. Limited range plus mobile infantry would lead to a pretty immediate arrest.

    2. Just get a cheap drone and wirelessly collect video. Good luck finding the owner.

      1. You’re talking about a neighborhood that can’t even buy a box of Swisher Sweets, so good luck scraping together the cash for a drone.

        1. Why would they need to? Is there a force-field over Furgeson?

        2. “Can’t” or “would prefer not to”?

    3. Despite the fact that sending in drones would be perfectly legal (amateur drones are not regulated by the FAA), I’m sure you’re right. They’d make up something to charge the operators with.

  9. Sounds like this is escalating. Will it turn deadly for the gathering masses?

    1. Two people were shot last night. It’s only a matter of time before the cops kill someone else.

      1. I’m half expecting a Kent State type event at this point.

      2. Two people shot last night – no shots fired by cops.

        1. You’re spoiling the narrative…

    2. I’m a bit surprised that it hasn’t grown out into other major cities. This protest has been going on long enough that I would expect at least some rumblings in LA, NY, DC, and chi-town

      1. *I’m a bit surprised that it hasn’t grown out into other major cities. *

        Maybe you’re underestimating the intelligence of those particular cities.

      2. There were at least limited protests here in Atlanta. A (white) friend of mine was walking with her baby & toddler and had some protesters follow her yelling that they were “devils”. Her toddler was pretty freaked out. I always support the right to protest, but c’mon. Chasing down babies and yelling names at them isn’t exactly going to win any supporters. A-holes.

        1. Brotherstineans can’t seem to keep the outrage on target. Get offended at police or government=attack Korean store owners or random white families (or truckers) makes perfect sense in Brotherstinean logic. And of course, Jewish anything is always on the target menu.

  10. The overall action was never clear.

    Never was, never will be.

    “Good news, Citizens! The Eastasian attack was repulsed, and a glorious victory for our troops was won. Join Big Brother in a grateful tribute to our noble fighting men.”

    This message has been brought to you by the Ministry of Truth.

    1. And now it’s time for two minutes hate!

      ::picture of the Koch brothers appears on the telescreen::

  11. Will it turn deadly for the gathering masses?

    We have to destroy Ferguson in order to save it.

  12. I would expect VICE News or Alex Jones to have a high end market drone in the air with a video that does not look as if it was shot from a potato.

  13. If anything, helicopters, which would block emergency vehicles, which wouldn’t get in the way of cops or crowds, which would remain at a remove from the action, would be safer than the rest of the media.


  14. Why Are There No News Helicopters Over Ferguson?

    All together now:


    1. We need a gif similar to the Ron Paul “It’s happening” gif, but for FYTW.

  15. The STL airport is really close, 2-3 miles away. That may have something to do with it, too. OTOH the police have no issue with using their chopppers so maybe not.

    1. That would fall under standard FAA purview and not require a local law enforcement request. In fact, local law enforcement has no say in that matter at all.

  16. It’s incredible that there is the National Guard, tanks on the streets, no news permitted, etc., and people are still saying things like “BUT HE’S A THERG!” and yearning for even more boot leather.

    1. Yep, at this point, Brown could’ve been shooting an uzi at a school while shooting heroin and masturbating to revenge porn, and the main story still would’ve shifted to the ridiculous behaviour of our “boys in camo.. I mean blue”

      1. Uzi, Black and Decker Cord drill, tomato, tomahto.


  17. When the media is forcibly shut out of news gathering operations by the government the words “Police State” come to mind.

  18. But the media presence *is* exacerbating the situation. It gives the protesters hope that their grievances will be heard if they just hold out. Without the media watching, the citizenry might have been successfully beaten into submission by now.

    1. *It gives the protesters hope that their grievances will be heard if they just hold out.*

      And what “grievances” are those, really? That their thieves and jaywalkers aren’t given free-reign over the city?

      1. Excellent point. True black leaders like MLK would never endorse such violence.

        Then again, MLK is gone and those who pretend to carry on his work (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson)would be bitch-slapped by King himself if he were alive today.

      2. That’s “free rein.” And I suppose you also think people are poor because they want to be…

        1. Not often is a typo so apt.

  19. They’d make up something to charge the [drone] operators with.

    Disturbing the peace, illegal wiretapping, interfering with a police investigation, excessive noise, public nuisance….

  20. It’s about local law enforcement not wanting to be watched?and not wanting media to capture a complete picture of the scene.

    You’re gonna need a bigger, thicker tin-foil hat, Peter.

  21. 3000 feet is nothing! Why would it be so hard to fly a chopper at 3500 feet with a steadicam with an ultra-zoom lens?

    1. 3500 feet is definitely safe considering about the only gun that can shoot above 2500 feet is a 50 cal rifle and there are not that many of them there if any at all except for in police hands.

      1. So there is a TFR (temp. Flight Restriction) up to 3000ft? Fly at 3500′. Bet the media are just now ferrying in the choppers from LA or renting up all the ones in MO. …..until one of the Kardashians picks a booger and we have to switch to 24/7 BREAKING NEWS COVERAGE of THAT.

      2. Military helicopters fly a lot of medium altitude tactics for his very reason. RPGs and AKs ain’t a big deal up there.

    2. If it is close to an airport, above 3000 ft is probably within the “upside-down layer-cake” of restrictions a responsible pilot adheres to.
      Oh, did I use a dirty word on REASON – responsible.

  22. Slightly OT:


    I wonder if this woman can read cursive ? Does anyone think she wrote this letter from her on thoughts ?

    The last paragraph I read several times. Is this a not so veiled threat for more and greater violence ?

    1. the meme that Trayvon and Michael are just boys is frustrating. they are adult males Michael was 18 and ready for college while Trayvon was 17 who could serve in the military if not for his police record and both were bigger than your average American male.

      1. Not only was he ready for college, he was registered and looking forward to going.

        1. Which store clerk was he going to intimidate to get his luggage?

  23. Time for the Media to use Drones so that no one is in danger of course we all know danger is not the reason for the helicopter ban its about control. If there is no media how do we know who is shooting at who? Maybe the police should allow some media personnel to be imbedded just like our military does.

  24. The cops apparently believe the media is exacerbating the situation.

    Well, the media are the ones who turned it into a racial circus. He should be thanking them for helping deflect blame away from the cops.

  25. Sounds like a 1st Amendment case vs the FAA. and Ferguson Police.

  26. Could be because the crime scene is less than three miles from the end of the St Louis International Airport’s two main runways.

  27. Yes, let’s pretend that a news copter would change the fact that businesses are being looted and vandalized, night after night. Let’s further pretend that the press is not stoking the fires that keep the looters looting, drawing in professional “protestors” from all over the country. I would have thought a libertarian publication would oppose such. How strange.

    But I live about 6 miles from Ferguson, so perhaps I’m just biased.

    1. Amen.

  28. And by “such” I refer to that particular violation of the non-aggression principle that we call looting.

  29. Meh – Helicopters are a big part of urban police tactic – quick in and out, and it is disconcerting to the targets. Police want a monopoly of the airspace so that if shit jumps off big-time, they can get in there without worrying about wolf blitzer’s pilot fucking him up, or filming what the average Joe REALLY needn’t be seeing.
    Don’t worry, libertarians, they aren’t coming for your pot stash………………YET!!!

    1. Anew, When you have a cops balls in your mouth – chocolate or salty?

    2. Just what should the average Joe not be allowed to see?

  30. Um…no. The reason for the airspace restriction isn’t to give safety to the people on the ground, it’s to safeguard the people in the AIR. Some morons in the town SHOT AT helicopters, so they restricted the airspace so a bonehead on the ground wouldn’t put a bullet through a news chopper.

  31. Here’s how Obama can use Ferguson to his advantage.

    He’ll go in, and prosecute the police for violating the rights of the press and the rights of the protestors. It’ll make him look like he’s eliminating over zealous government jackboots and possible racists as well (he’s got 50 FBI agents searching for evidence).

    And he’ll hope every government employee sees he’s doing it for the political advantage, and not that he’ll start holding other government employees accountable, say when they are Democrats in charge.

    He will avoid setting precedents that will be used against government in the future. E.G., he’ll want the FAA to decide where drones can be used (hint: where it’s to his advantage).

    Frankly I think Obama is a fraud, con, liar and deserves to be put in jail for fraud besides being impeached. But that’s what I think he’ll do.

  32. All these police and national Guard! Why isn’t at least a couple of these killing Looters. Oh! I know why. If the looters are Black then Holder would punish the officers! If they are white then medals are issued.

    1. Aren’t you on the wrong site? I suggest you go to PatriotUpdate.

  33. Sure, because flying a helicopter that could be mistaken for the hated cops and not news coverage, over an out of control mob, many of them armed and all of them idiots who are ignoring a curfew and acting like morons (and under cover of darkness) is a good idea.

    You first, if you think any more coverage is worth the risk. Me, I’m willing to ignore all of these fools. Back in the 60s when there were riots downtown in my city, the smart people stayed home.

  34. I lived through the LA riots with, I think, 53 dead when it was all over. I remember thinking about those dead people every time some publication or dumb ass celebrity talked about how exciting it was to see the people on the streets. I don’t give a damn about what the media (or dumb ass celebrities) wants right now. What I care about is a return to calm. And the media, including Reason, doesn’t give a shit about that.

    Your description of what happened in and of itself makes that very clear. Of course we don’t know exactly what happened when this young man was shot but it certainly wasn’t a case of him being gunned down for the simple crime of jaywalking.

    Reason used to strike me as reasonable and level headed but the editorial direction of the past few years is disheartening. I’m not trying to defend murderous cops on the hunt for young black men. But I’m also not interested in stringing up every cop that happens to come out of a violent encounter alive.

    The writer knows nothing about having to make a life and death decision in a split second and serves no purpose by trying to convey a cartoonish account of what actually happened on that day.

    1. Captain dumbfuk,
      I have a plastic bubble I’d like to sell you. You sound too afraid to be out in the real world.

      1. Oh wow, that hurts. I suppose now is the moment that we’re supposed to start arguing over who’s living in the real, real world?

        More brilliant commentary at Reason.

  35. “Hundreds of thousands of feet”?

    So helicopters fly in the troposphere?

    Calm down with the hyperbole if you want people to -listen to REASON-.

    1. that’s hilarious. I didn’t even catch that.

  36. Google and Bing Maps show that Lambert International Airport is right next door. Perhaps, that is too complicated an answer?

  37. This article pretends to know some things as facts that have not been proven, that after complaining the media are not given access to marches. Condemnations of the ONE cop got immediate and thundering attention following the “incident”, –before– it was clear that there might be more to the story, or clarifications about the credibility of the “witnesses”.

    It is not fair to shoot somebody in cold blood, and the police are over-militarized for sure, and that exacerbates everything in general, for sure. But it’s ugly to condemn that one man, the cop, so quickly, so far from being there, before knowing the truth, just as much as condemning the dead guy.

    The truth about the Pentagon and the feds turning the locals into local fed agents and “Occupy Police State” can stand on its own without making unfounded presumptions before the facts are known.

  38. Cops killing dogs, cops acting like soldiers, and cops with real bad power issues are all despicable things…but from what I can tell from the most recent evidence is that the original shooting was entirely justified.

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