By Richard Knee
Local 39521 Vice President-California
Following assaults by San Francisco sheriff’s deputies on four journalists covering a protest rally in City Hall on May 6, your Guild and the Society of Professional Journalists, Northern California chapter, have told Mayor Edwin Lee and Sheriff Vicki Hennessy that such atrocious conduct must stop.
Attacks on two of the journalists were so severe as to necessitate treatment in hospitals. Natasha Dangond, a staff photographer with the City College of San Francisco newspaper, The Guardsman, sustained bruises on her head and arm from a deputy’s baton and grip, and Sana Saleem, a freelance writer/photographer for the local news website 48hills, suffered sore ribs from a deputy’s attack.
In addition, a shove down a staircase by a deputy resulted in right-hip, knee and back pain for Joel Angel Juárez, a freelance photographer for the Mission neighborhood newspaper El Tecolote, and Guardsman photographer Gabriella Angotti-Jones also was assaulted.
All four displayed press credentials as they covered a demonstration supporting the “Frisco 5,” a group of hunger-strikers protesting police abuses against non-Anglos and demanding the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr.
“Reporters, photographers and videographers are on scene to report the news as it happens. They are not participants in protests. Under no circumstances should they be subject to violence by peace officers. We intend to hold you accountable,” Guild and SPJNC leaders told Lee and Hennessy in a strongly worded letter e-mailed to them and copied to numerous other local, state and federal officials on May 12.
Guild signators to the letter were Executive Officer Carl Hall; Sara Bloomberg and Will Carruthers, who co-chair the Guild Freelancers unit; Guild Freelancers vice chair David Bacon; Bill Snyder, editor of the Bay News Rising summer mentorship program; and yours truly. Signing on SPJNC’s behalf were president Lila LaHood and Freedom of Information Committee co-chairs Cherokee Melton and Thomas Peele.
Hennessy announced she had ordered the attacks investigated, prompting the Guild and SPJNC leaders to urge immediate steps to prevent such outrages from occurring, including “a written directive, distributed to all officers, on dealing with journalists at protests and at other events where disorder occurs or is possible; mandatory training for all officers in that regard; and assurances from both you, Mayor Lee, and you, Sheriff Hennessy, that injurious force will not be used against working journalists.”
The letter noted also that for law-enforcement officers or government agencies to decide who is or is not a journalist “flouts the constitutional principle of a free press. A photograph-bearing identification card from a professional or collegiate news outlet, or from an organization representing freelance journalists provides sufficient information for law-enforcement officers and other emergency-response personnel.”