by Robin Kemp
Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer Alyssa Pointer and Washington Post freelancer Haisten Willis were illegally detained by law enforcement officials in Atlanta Monday as they performed their Constitutionally-protected duty to inform the public of breaking news, including the actions of law enforcement during street demonstrations.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Pointer was detained by Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers and that Willis was arrested by the Atlanta Police Department. Both Pointer and Willis were later released but police illegally seized Willis’ phone and made the unfounded claim that his digital press credentials were “illegitimate.”
Willis’ only mandatory credential is the First Amendment.
The Clayton Crescent condemns in the strongest possible terms the escalation of police interference with American and overseas journalists engaged in newsgathering and in recording these historic events, as they happen, on behalf of the public.
The law is clear: Police absolutely may not use the excuse of public conflict to target, harass or censor journalists. Period. Full stop.
And police know this.
We cosign the statement issued by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Washington Post, the Georgia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Atlanta Chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
We also point officers and their leadership to the statement issued by the Society of Professional Journalists over the weekend, after sworn officers around the country clearly and deliberately targeted multiple journalists, taking head shots at them with rubber bullets, partially blinding two photographers, and otherwise engaging in egregious and gratuitous targeting of news crews at work.
By drawing down directly on cameras and arresting members of the press, particularly African-American members of the media, those rogue officers are hijacking our cameras in order to spread terror and discontent among viewers at home.
These are the kind of police tactics that are used in China, Venezuela, Cuba, the Philippines, Russia, and other democracy-free zones.
Add to that documented reports of uniformed officers throwing white nationalist “OK” signs, apparently attempting to provoke African-American demonstrators, and infiltration of law enforcement by white nationalists and the situation is untenable.
It is time for good cops to hold their weaker, more volatile brothers and sisters to the high standard that Atlanta Police Chief Erika Shields set following the Taser attack on two students in their car. If you are ready to bust some heads or pop some reporters, stop and think about the consequences, for your targets and for your career. We know police work is incredibly stressful at times like this, Please seek assistance if you’re struggling with anger, substance abuse, or work-related stress.
Don’t take it out on innocent civilians, including journalists, who you took an oath to protect and to serve.
Don’t take it out on the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which you swore to uphold.