Police mass downtown on September 17, 2017, the night of the controversial kettle that swept up Post-Dispatch reporter Mike Faulk.
Last September, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
reporter Mike Faulk volunteered for an assignment covering the protests that had broken out in the city following the acquittal of former police officer Jason Stockley
It was Sunday, the third night of protests that would erupt regularly for more than a month. It proved to be the ugliest, with more than 80 arrests.
And it would change Faulk's life.
Trapped in a kettle by St. Louis police, he was with a group given no chance of escape before being arrested. In a lawsuit Faulk would later file against the department
, he says he was tackled, with his head mashed into the pavement by an officer's boot, and pepper sprayed in the eyes — all this even though he wore a prominent press pass.
Yesterday, Faulk put in his notice at the Post-Dispatch.
He'll be moving back to Yakima, Washington, which is his wife's hometown. A teacher, she's landed a job at the school district there.
But while Faulk, a 32-year-old Alabama native, says he never planned to stay in St. Louis forever, what happened during that night of protest coverage hastened his departure. "I suffer from paranoid, traumatic thoughts, and I don't feel safe around St. Louis police," he says.
Faulk moved to St. Louis in August 2016 after a stint at the Yakima Herald-Republic
. He was initially hired to cover public-private partnerships for the daily, which included a memorable stint chronicling the (failed) plan to build a Major League Soccer stadium downtown. But after volunteering for protest coverage, getting arrested and finding himself suffering mentally and physically, he took a three-month mental health sabbatical.
When he returned in April, he asked for — and got — a new beat, this one covering higher education. "I was desperate for something to feel different," he says. He's also recently begun to try his hand at standup comedy, another attempt to shake up his life. (You can catch him at the Improv Shop most Mondays.)
On stage, Faulk doesn't joke about his work at the Post-Dispatch
, much less his experience with the police. Overall, he says, he's still sorting through the meaning of his time in St. Louis. "The lessons of this experience are still to be determined," he says. "I want to believe that in time I'll be able to reflect on this in a way that really is for the best."
But in the meantime, he finds himself thinking a lot about being trapped by police that night with no chance of escape — not just what it meant as a journalist, but as a citizen, as someone merely attempting to observe the department in action that night.
"To me it's about the importance of anyone, anywhere, being able to witness something and not be abused by the police for simply being in public," he says. "There's what they did to my body and what I saw happen in front of me — I couldn't explain it, could not make sense of it and could not do anything to stop it. Hearing these helpless cries of people asking 'why,' and them just pepper-spraying and tackling and beating people, that is a lesson. It's not about journalism, though that's a part of it. This could happen to anyone. And so how do we make sure it doesn't?"
In Yakima, Faulk intends to keep writing, but says he's stepping away from the traditional newsroom for now.
His last day at the Post-Dispatch
will be July 1, and he plans to leave for Yakima by mid-July. But even so, he avers, his lawsuit against the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will continue.
See also: Filmmaker at Protest Was Beaten by St. Louis Cops After Kettling, Suit Alleges
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