Groups condemn detainment of journalists in Atlanta protests

ATLANTA (AP) — Journalism organizations are condemning authorities’ detainment of two journalists who were covering protests in Atlanta.

The Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists said in a news release that one journalist was detained Sunday and another on Monday covering protests and unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Both were quickly released without charges.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution photographer Alyssa Pointer, a black woman, was detained by Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers Monday while wearing press credentials and after identifying herself as a journalist, the release says. Haisten Willis, a freelance journalist on assignment for The Washington Post, said he was handcuffed and briefly held by Atlanta police Sunday while trying to explain that he was a reporter. Willis is a white man.

Live video of Pointer being detained was streamed on Facebook by a WXIA-TV reporter. It shows Pointer sitting on the ground with her hands restrained behind her back, before being released after other journalists interceded.

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Kevin Riley, the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, did not immediately return a phone message requesting comment. In a statement, he said Pointer was “doing her job.”

“The journalists at the AJC, including Alyssa Pointer, are documenting an important story and one that citizens need to have information about,” Riley said. “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.”

A message left with a person who answered the phone at the Georgia Department of Natural Resources commissioner’s office was not immediately returned. State law enforcement agencies and the National Guard have been assisting local police during protests across Georgia. Some officers have worn riot gear that makes it difficult to distinguish between agencies.

Journalists covering protests across the U.S. have complained of rough treatment by police. CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was reporting live television in Minneapolis when police arrested him Friday. The following night in the same city, MSNBC host Ali Velshi said he was shot in the leg by police firing rubber bullets after his crew identified themselves as members of the news media.

Marty Baron, executive editor of The Washington Post, said in a statement: “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.”

A spokeswoman for the newspaper, Shani George, confirmed that Willis was working for The Washington Post when police detained him Sunday night in downtown Atlanta. Willis said a group of police approached him about 30 minutes past the start of Atlanta’s emergency curfew. He said he put his hands up, telling them: “I’m a journalist.”

Willis said the officers asked to see his press credentials and he told them he didn’t have a physical media ID because he’s a freelancer — but noted the Washington Post had issued him a digital credential that was on his cellphone.

“They said a digital credential could be forged,” Willis said.

Willis said officers cuffed his hands with plastic zip ties and searched his pockets. He told them he had business cards in his wallet that identify him as a freelance journalist. He said police let him go within minutes. He said he believes the officers worked for Atlanta police, but he wasn’t certain.

“I understand where the police are coming from. They didn’t know who I was initially. I was out after curfew,” Willis said. “But at the same time it was quiet and I didn’t see the need to rush when I was trying to tell them who I was.”

A spokesman for the Atlanta Police Department declined to comment.

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