Members of the media are voicing their frustration over treatment by law enforcement while in the course of covering protests over the shooting of Andrew Brown Jr.
Amanda Martin, an attorney representing North Carolina media outlets, has been working extensively with city and county officials to ensure credentialed media remain exempt from arrests while covering the protests. That includes beyond the 8 p.m. curfew the city enforced nightly from Tuesday to Thursday. On Friday, the city pushed back the curfew to midnight.
The response from city and county officials has been that as long as working, credentialed journalists stick to covering the protests and do not engage in the protests, they will remain exempt from arrest while in the course of doing their jobs.
However, at least two videos posted at Twitter indicate police threatening to arrest reporters.
One video from Thursday night shows an Elizabeth City police officer warning a group of news photographers they will be arrested if they don’t disperse.
“We are now going to start arresting press, y’all need to leave,” the officer warns. The video appears to have been filmed off Ehringhaus Street about a block west of Griffin Street.
Another officer is seen talking to the photographers but his comments are difficult to hear. A few seconds later the other officer warns the group again they need to leave.
“Yes, y’all will be subject to arrest,” the officer says. “Y’all need to leave.”
That video was posted by Ford Fischer, who identifies himself as co-founder and editor-in-chief of N2SReports, a Washington D.C.-based news organization that covers politics and activism.
Another video shows an Elizabeth City police officer threatening to arrest a reporter who is asking him questions. The reporter approaches the officer and asks him what he thinks about the protests, since Elizabeth City is the officer’s community. The video was filmed downtown at South Cobb and West Main streets.
“You have about two seconds before you’ll be arrested,” the officer says. “Leave.”
When the person filming asks the reason for being arrested the officer tells him again to leave.
“I’m asking you a question, man,” the reporter responds.
The officer is next seen removing a set of zip tie restraints from his vest and the reporter complies and leaves. The video was posted by the account of Status Coup News, based in New York City.
Martin said Friday that police have reported some protesters are using fake press badges, or credentials, to continue covering the ongoing protests and to avoid arrests. While those reports may be true, Martin said she doesn’t understand how police could mistake legitimate working journalists from other people covering the protests but do not represent news organizations.
That’s especially difficult to understand in the case of broadcast news reporters, Martin said. A majority of the concerns she’s fielded regarding police treatment of the media have been from broadcast news outlets.
They should be the most recognizable of all legitimate reporters covering the protests because they stand out with their large, expensive video cameras used specifically for televised feeds, Martin said.
Broadcast reporters use a considerable deal of equipment when reporting in the field, particularly professional video cameras, plus specialized sound gear and mobile battery-powered lighting equipment.
On the same line, most professional news photographers carry more than one camera, each outfitted with different lenses.
Working members of the media also carry their press credentials, typically in a laminated pouch on a lanyard around their neck. The credentials indicate they are members of the press and typically include which organization they work for.
One reporter from a North Carolina TV news outlet described his interaction with police while covering protests late Thursday evening on parts of Colonial Avenue and Main Street.
He said one observation was police didn’t appear on the same page as far as their instructions to media covering the protests. One group of police in riot gear told his crew to back away and get in a nearby parking lot, while another group ordered them into the street, he said.
His group tried to get out of the way of police and were told they could not continue reporting from the sidewalk but had to get back in the street. The police also had weapons he described as rubber bullet guns pointed in their direction.
The reporter also said the Pasquotank sheriff’s deputies seemed to be fine with his crew’s presence. It was the out-of-town officers who appeared more hostile and perhaps unaware that working media were exempt from the curfew and allowed to cover the protests without fear of arrests.
He also emphasized for the sake of fairness that when the riot police had passed his crew, the local sheriff’s deputies were nice and accommodating in helping his crew leave downtown in their vehicle.
Local officials say they’ve tried to make clear that working journalists are exempt from the curfew. A letter from Pasquotank County Attorney Mike Cox to Martin on Friday in fact states: “This statement is to clarify that the curfew will not be enforced against working journalists, as long as those journalists are actively involved in covering the events in Pasquotank County, and are not involved in protest activities.”