Mandi Wright, a photographer for the Detroit Free Press, learned a bit of a lesson about what it’s like to be on the wrong end of a cop, as she recorded a person being arrested and placed into a police cruiser.
This requires a bit of a breakdown, as the initial interaction, where she states she’s with Freep, yet told to turn off the camera, shows a legit journalist aghast at not being allowed to do her job. The recording ends with captured sound of her saying “are you touching me? I’m sorry…”
Stopping at this point, one can well understand her shock and anger at being stopped and manhandled. Normally, this would be a sympathetic moment, with the only commentary being that reporters often forget that the same rights that inure to them apply to everyone.
While they are ready to go scorched earth when it’s one of their legit journalists, they rarely feel the same level of concern or empathy when it’s a non-journo doing the videotaping. Unfortunately, they fail to see how rights either apply to everyone or not. As happened here, journalists aren’t always “special.”
But then Wright’s post-hoc rationalization goes seriously awry:
Wright later said she didn’t know the man approaching her was a police officer and thought he was an angry civilian. He didn’t identify himself on the tape, and his clothes carried no police insignia.
Is she suggesting that it would have been different if she knew he was a cop? Is she suggesting that the same right to video police action on a public street ceases when a cop says so?
And the story devolves from there:
At the station, Wright said, she shared an interrogation room with the suspect. An officer interviewed her in front of the man, asking for personal information, including her home address and name.
As her editor says in the video interview, the man was charged with a felony. So? While it’s wildly inappropriate that Wright have been arrested and held at all, and similarly inappropriate they she be warehoused with the suspect, he’s impugned for the wrong reason. Just as Wright was wrongly arrested, where does she (or her editor) come off assuming her innocence and his guilt? She was certainly handled wrongly, and yet they are fully prepared to accept without question that the other guy is a heinous criminal?
When Wright got her iPhone back, she found that her SIM card was gone. It didn’t mean the video was gone, as that was saved on the hard drive, but it’s a project getting the SIM card out and whoever decided to make her video disappear found the effort worthwhile. This gave rise to an internal investigation, because it’s a huge mystery what happened to it.
So after eight hours, Wright was freed without charges, her phone was returned without its SIM card and Deputy Chief James Tolbert expressed that the police were “embarrassed” by what happened. The Freep folks remains irate:
Paul Anger, editor and publisher of the Free Press, said the situation should not have escalated as it did.
“First, our photographer was doing what any journalist — or any citizen — has a right to do in a public place,” he said. “All she knew was that someone had grabbed her and her phone. We understand the difficult job that police officers do, and we understand how tensions can rise. Yet some of the police actions all through this incident need scrutiny — not the actions of our photographer.”
Hershel Fink, Free Press legal counsel, said courts in the U.S. have consistently agreed that “citizens, much less the press, have a right to photograph police officers in public places. The video shows she did not interfere with the police action and the officer had no right to order her to stop filming and to confiscate her camera.”
All true, but all raising a troubling question: If all these rights and concerns apply to “citizens, much less the press,” where is the shock and anger when the story doesn’t involve Freep reporters, when the person wrongfully “touched,” arrested and held isn’t on their payroll, when the person isn’t released and their camera isn’t returned?
Is it possible that when the person arrested doesn’t have press credentials, they are more like the “felon” in the same room who they assume to be a bad dude than their reporter whose rights have been trampled but they know to be a maligned innocent? Not everybody gets a statement from the deputy chief that the cops are embarrassed. Most get bail.