The U.S. Park Police have announced that two officers will be placed on administrative leave after video showed them allegedly attacking an Australian press crew.
The move came Wednesday, the same day that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it had filed a class-action lawsuit over treatment of the press in Minneapolis.
Journalists have been attacked, detained and harassed while covering the nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis.
As of Thursday, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker had investigated around 280 incidents, with about 20 of those in Washington, D.C.
In the case of the Australian crew, footage recorded by WJLA-TV news showed Park Police appearing to shove camera operator Tim Myers and use a baton to strike reporter Amanda Brace from Australia’s Channel 7 on Monday.
The incident took place as law enforcement attempted to clear an area for President Donald Trump to walk to a church damaged during protests in Washington.
The incident is being investigated, acting Chief Gregory Monahan said Wednesday in a statement.
“We take mistreatment of journalists seriously, as do all who take democracy seriously,” U.S. Ambassador to Australia Arthur Culvahouse Jr. said in a statement Tuesday. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting journalists and guaranteeing equal justice under law for all.”
In response to attacks against journalists in Minneapolis, the ACLU of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minneapolis Police Department. The Press Freedom Tracker is investigating over 50 incidents in the city.
One plaintiff, Jared Goyette — a freelance journalist who said he was shot in the face by a rubber bullet in Minneapolis — wrote that the “press is under assault in our city.”
“This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution,” Goyette wrote in the complaint. “It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press that form the linchpin of a free society.”
The lawsuit seeks an order that would declare the police officers’ actions unconstitutional and prohibit law enforcement from targeting and attacking journalists, and it also seeks damages, according to an ACLU statement released Wednesday.
“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this,” ACLU-MN legal director Teresa Nelson said in the statement. “Police are using violence and threats to undermine that power, and we cannot let that happen. Public transparency is absolutely necessary for police accountability.”
Rights groups have condemned harassment and attacks on journalists in other cities, including Atlanta, where two journalists were briefly detained. The journalists, Haisten Willis and Alyssa Pointer, had identified themselves as press, the Associated Press reported.
'No need' for handcuffs
“In today’s digital age and with more journalists than ever working as remote freelancers, digital credentials are a commonly used and accepted form of identification,” Willis, who was working as a freelancer for The Washington Post, said in a joint statement with the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Georgia. “There was no need for handcuffs or confiscation.”
At a Tuesday news conference, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he had asked the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources to “look into” the incident involving Pointer, the AP reported. Atlanta police declined to comment to the AP.
The SPJ Georgia, the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists and other groups called on news organizations to provide freelancers with proper credentials and protective equipment, such as masks and first-aid kits.
“It is vital that members of law enforcement, who have sworn to serve and protect their citizens, do so without endangering journalists’ safety, press freedom and civil rights,” the Monday statement read. “Law enforcement must respect journalists’ role in covering events of civil unrest.”