by Ray Downs
An independent journalist who has been live-streaming the Ferguson protests for several weeks says all of his equipment was robbed from his car after police searched his car and didn't lock his doors after they put him under arrest for unpaid traffic tickets.
Bassem Masri, a St. Louis native who works as a distribution manager by day and an activist journalist by night, is suspicious about the arrest because the night before it happened, state troopers pulled him over and tried to do a background check, but weren't able to because their system was temporarily down.
"I'm always honest with the police," Masri tells Daily RFT. "When they pulled me over, I tell them, 'Look, I have a few warrants.' But they couldn't look it up because their system was down, so they let me go."
The next morning, however, officers from the city pulled Masri over just minutes after he left his home and placed him under arrest for the traffic warrants. And Masri says they didn't bother to lock the doors to his car that had his valuables inside.
"They left my car on the side of the road, and everything got stolen: my clothes, my iPad, my equipment, everything got stolen. Gone," he says.
Masri, 27, is open about his traffic-ticket problem and says he has been arrested approximately 40 times for moving violations -- mostly for driving without a license. It all started back when he was nineteen and got into a car accident without insurance. He was ordered to pay $50,000 in damages, but he couldn't come up with the money. As a result, his license was suspended for fifteen years.
But he needed to drive, so he kept acquiring tickets for driving with a revoked license, which then turned into warrants -- a common problem that has been one of the main points of the Ferguson protests.
"I've been arrested 40 times, almost, for traffic tickets -- never did anything else besides that," Masri says. "I got behind once, and I've been in the cycle ever since."
Masri ended up spending twelve hours in the St. Louis City Justice Center. He says he was shocked that city cops arrested him because, from his experience, they usually don't bother people for traffic-ticket warrants unless there's a gun or drug charge involved. Plus, he explains, police know him and his family because they have close ties to the community.
"But all that went down the drain once I started doing Ferguson," explains Masri.
Despite the change in attitude, Masri says, there were some police officers who offered some words of encouragement.
"Not all of them are bad. Some of them even want to speak out," Masri says. "One of them told me that he comes down there and protests with us, but we don't know that he's a cop. Cops come and protest with us, too."
Losing all his equipment hasn't held Masri back. Shortly after getting out of jail, he started an online fundraiser to raise $5,000 to replace his equipment and to buy food and supplies for protesters.
He also has an old iPhone that he plans on using to live-stream the protests until he can replace his cameras and iPad.
"I'm just gonna get back in the streets and keep doing this," he says. "[My arrest] reaffirmed my position about why we're doing this. It became even more important to do it because this is not a way to live for nobody."
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