The National Press Photographers Association and the Wisconsin News Photographers Association both fired off strongly worded letters addressing Wednesday’s arrest of a photojournalist covering an Occupy Milwaukee protest.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel photographer Kristyna Wentz-Graff was arrested along with two protesters for standing in the street, which is usually just a traffic citation.
Milwaukee police claimed they gave several warnings but the video (linked below) proves otherwise.
Police later claimed they did not know she was a photojournalist, which shows these officers are not necessarily Sherlock Holmes material.
The NPPA and WNPA both made reference to September’s arrest of another photojournalist, Clinton J. Fillinger, at the hands of Milwaukee police.
The NPPA sent its letter to the Milwaukee Police and Fire Commission, the agency that oversees both the police and fire departments.
I write to you now in the hope that more reasonable minds will prevail, establishing proper press police polices and training for members of the Milwaukee Police Department in order to avoid similar situations. Although I received a reply from the chief (attached) assuring me that they had “launched an administrative review” of the case the charges against Mr. Fillinger have not been withdrawn and we have no knowledge of any disciplinary actions taken against the officers involved or corrective measures taken by the department.
What is equally disturbing are the public statements by the chief after Mr. Fillinger’s arrest (see second letter) and the statement by the Milwaukee Police Spokeswoman that the police did not know Ms. Wentz-Graff was a journalist at the time of her arrest. In the first case, the chief was wrong as the tape showed Mr. Fillinger was complying with the officer’s request. In the second case, it is highly implausible that the police did not know Ms. Wentz-Graff was a member of the working press. It is apparent from the officers’ actions as seen on the various tapes of the incident that Ms. Wentz-Graff was shooting pictures with two (2) professional cameras and lenses while visibly displaying her identification on a clip on her jacket zipper.
The WNPA directed its letter to Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn:
Schwartz has also asserted that Wentz-Graff never identified herself as a photojournalist, and that MPD did not know Wentz-Graff was a journalist until she arrived at the police station. This is implausible and unreasonable at best. Wentz-Graff was using professional photography equipment and wearing press identification on a lanyard hanging around her neck. Furthermore, her profession could have been easily ascertained by questioning her before taking the drastic steps that were taken. Instead, she was quickly pushed against a police vehicle and handcuffed without discretion. Her equipment was left to crash to the ground.
We respectfully ask that any and all charges against Ms. Wentz-Graff be dropped immediately. MPD has asserted the following on its official, public Facebook page: “Some are commenting that [Wentz-Graff’s] First Amendment rights were somehow infringed. There was no infringing on freedom of the press, as officers did not know she was a journalist.”
The MPD is out of line for disseminating fallacious legal interpretations to the general public on social networking sites. This remark only emphasizes the MPD’s vast misunderstanding of the First Amendment. All citizens – journalists and non-journalists – enjoy all of their First Amendment rights (to speech, press, assembly, petition and religion). One need not be a journalist to “qualify.” These rights are not given to American citizens “a la carte.” Ignorance on the part of MPD is also no defense.
On an unrelated, somewhat related, note, I finally got to meet Mickey Osterreicher in person last month after talking to him numerous times on the phone when we both sat on a panel discussing photography rights during the Media Law in the Digital Age conference in Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
We discussed everything from Fillinger’s arrest to Emily Good’s arrest to the TSA’s attempt to paint photographers as terrorists.
The night before, we had a good discussion in the hotel bar about the ongoing crackdown against photographers.
I know you guys probably get sick of hearing me say this, but Osterreicher is a great person to have in your corner if you’re a photographer or simply a believer in the First Amendment.
It all went very well, but unfortunately, we don’t have any video of the discussion. But we do have this photo.