Groups condemn detention of journalists covering Atlanta protests

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff photographer Alyssa Pointer is a key member of the news organization’s coverage team for the George Floyd protests.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff photographer Alyssa Pointer is a key member of the news organization’s coverage team for the George Floyd protests.

Law enforcement officers at the George Floyd protests in Atlanta on Monday detained journalists working for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Washington Post, a move swiftly condemned by a coalition of Georgia journalism organizations.

AJC staff photographer Alyssa Pointer, a key member of the news organization’s protest coverage team, was detained by officers of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Atlanta police arrested Haisten Willis, a former president of the Georgia Society of Professional Journalists who was working as a freelancer for The Washington Post. Both have been released.

“The detainments of Willis and Pointer were clear abridgements of press freedoms,” the groups said in a statement.

GALLERY: Day 4 of protests in Atlanta

Pointer said her press badge was clearly displayed, and she identified herself to law enforcement. But the officers did not release her until two other members of the press interceded. Video shows Pointer with her hands zip-tied behind her back, AJC editors said. Video streamed live on Facebook by the local NBC affiliate, 11Alive, captured Pointer’s detention.

Willis, too, said he attempted to identify himself. Police handcuffed Willis and confiscated his phone, which held his digital press credential. Willis said officers refused to allow him to show his digital credential, claiming that it was illegitimate.

The press groups said confiscating the phone was in itself a violation of the law.

Willis was later released after showing officers business cards from his wallet, which listed his title as “freelance journalist.”

Editors of the AJC and the Post said they were working to learn more about the circumstances, and expressed support for the journalists.

“The journalists at the AJC, including Alyssa Pointer, are documenting an important story and one that citizens need to have information about,” AJC Editor Kevin Riley said in the statement. “While we are still getting details of what happened, there is no acceptable reason for a working member of the media — who clearly identified herself — to be detained. She was doing her job.”

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Atlanta protests

Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron also underlined the importance of their work to inform the public of the protests.

“The Post condemns all efforts to impede the work of journalists covering stories of public interest. That is especially true as journalists cover demonstrations such as those we’ve witnessed over the past week,” Baron said. “Journalists have been respectful of the role of police, and they’re owed respect for their role in providing information to the public. Any deliberate targeting of journalists for detention and arrest or, worse, violence is an intolerable and dangerous assault on freedom of the press.”

MORE: AJC Photos of the year 2019 — Alyssa Pointer

The groups issuing the statement included 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.

“This week, we have seen journalists tear gassed, pepper sprayed, attacked, and arrested by law enforcement across the country,” the coalition stated. “Journalists wearing visible credentials have also been arrested and targeted by police and protestors with acts of violence. Law enforcement must respect journalists’ role in covering events of civil unrest.”

MORE: AJC | Behind the lens - Alyssa Pointer Best photo 2019 

On Friday, the arrest of a CNN crew in Minneapolis as they reported on air became another public flashpoint in the week’s events, resulting in a public apology from the governor of Minnesota.

“The protection and security and safety of the journalists covering this is a top priority, not because it is a nice thing to do, because it is a key component of how we fix this,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “Sunshine, disinfectant and seeing what’s happening has to be done.”

Several of the organizations also called for news organizations to issue all journalists printed press credentials and to equip their freelance workers as they would their staff employees.

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