SPJ DETROIT CALLS ON GOVERNOR, DETROIT OFFICIALS TO OBSERVE RIGHTS OF THE PRESS
TO: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan
Detroit Police Chief James Craig
FROM: Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
DATE: June 5, 2020
RE: Freedom of the Press and Journalist rights
SPJ Detroit, the local affiliate of the National Society of Professional Journalists, is calling on the state and city officials to take immediate and concrete steps to end the series of police arrests and attacks on credentialed and clearly identifiable journalists in Metro Detroit and throughout Michigan in recent days.
In the process of covering protests and other news developments in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, journalists have been arrested, detained, threatened and even physically assaulted by police and other authorities with rubber bullets, pepper spray, tear gas, batons and fists.
In many of those cases, there are strong indications that authorities knew each journalist was a member of the working press.
As you are well aware, the right of the press to document police activity is foundational to our democracy and has long been recognized and protected by the courts.
These activities, particularly the targeting of reporters from doing their jobs — thusly restraining their efforts to keep the public informed during an extraordinary period of civil unrest — is beyond the pale in a free society.
While we understand the challenges that officers face in policing during times of civil protest — challenges that journalists also face in covering these incidents — the bedrock American ideal of a free press demands that we protect First Amendments rights even more zealously in moments of crisis.
The lists of attacks against journalists has grown daily and it is time that this be stopped.
We also remind you that law enforcement officers do not have legal immunity when they violate clearly established rights under the First Amendment.
These authorities must understand that gathering news and recording police activities are not crimes, and that journalists who are complying with reasonable law enforcement directions when covering civil unrest are protected by the First Amendment.
“Journalists are the critical conduits for trusted information most especially in these turbulent times,” SPJ Detroit president Beth Konrad said. “Obstructing the constitutional rights of a free press puts the values and goals of our democracy in serious jeopardy.”
SPJ Detroit urges each of you to remind your agencies and law enforcement officers that the news media is exempt from any curfew order.
We also remind you that a general curfew order that does not provide an exemption for members of the press and would preclude, for example, all news media coverage of police enforcement of the order, would violate the First Amendment. Furthermore, the arrest or detention of a reporter during a curfew also violates the provisions of the First Amendment.
SPJ Detroit is more than willing to meet with you and your appointed representatives. We think it important that we get together to address these issues and propose a series of options that allow each of us to achieve our stated goals.
Board of Directors, Detroit Pro Chapter, Society of Professional Journalists
CONTACT: For more information, contact SPJDetroit@gmail.com, or you may reach SPJ President Beth Konrad at (313) 600-2534.