Free people in a free country are free to use their cameras

Minnesota Pro Chapter
Society of Professional Journalists

For Immediate Release
August 29, 2008

Police confiscating reporting equipment, prohibiting journalists from covering news events, and hassling photographers are definite warning signs as we head into the Republican National Convention. The Society of Professional Journalists is discouraged to learn of such tactics recently in the name of public safety. We hope these are isolated missteps by local law enforcement officials before the big event arrives and police have more important matters to attend to.

Three out-of-town citizen journalists, here to document events happening outside the Xcel Energy Center, had their belongings–including cameras and notebooks–confiscated by Minneapolis police while in Northeast Minneapolis. Police claim the three were trespassing, but no charges have yet been filed. The three who where detained maintain there was no such trespassing and their interaction with police was an attempt to intimidate them because the group they represent has documented police abuse in the past.

A KSTP-TV photographer entered a Minneapolis city office where a group of protesters staged a sit-in. Police informed the photographer he could not shoot pictures and pushed him out of the room.

Let’s hope our local police are not as reckless as those in Denver, who arrested an ABC TV producer this week. The producer was investigating the influence of wealthy donors at the Democratic National Convention. Police grabbed him by the neck, handcuffed him and hauled him downtown for ‘trespassing’ on a public sidewalk. Is this the type of threat the public should be worried about during a high profile political event?

Attempts to intimidate journalists, whether professional or volunteer, never work. Such misplaced heavy-handedness only escalates tensions–something we don’t need as thousands of respected delegates fill the convention hall next week and thousand more citizens take to the streets to express themselves. Certainly, police face an honorable and difficult task protecting the public from those who intend harm. But those same protectors lose credibility when they invoke “Homeland Security” as a pretext for stifling attempts at legitimate expression.

How well the Twin Cities are portrayed on the worldwide political stage relies on cool heads prevailing, even when rhetoric runs hot. It is something Minnesotans are and should be known for.

Dave Aeikens, President-Elect, National Society of Professional Journalists; 320-249-3545
Nicole Garrison-Sprenger, President, Society of Professional Journalists Minnesota Pro Chapter; (651) 228-5580; (651) 331-1238.

Also read SPJ Board Member Art Hughes’ guest editorial in the Pioneer Press (8/29/08)