@VALUEZTV PM EDITION
A staff photographer/reporter for the Dover Post was detained by Delaware State Police Tuesday night while covering a protest near the state's capital.
He was released more than an hour later without being charged.
Andre Lamar, who is African American and who has covered several demonstrations in and around Dover since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last month, was doing a Facebook Live of police officers detaining several protesters along Route 13 in Camden, near Dover.
Just prior to the arrests, the protesters had been blocking traffic and walking between cars, Lamar said. He said there was a larger-than-normal police presence Tuesday night, and while there was "some friction" between protesters and officers, it had remained largely peaceful until police began detaining people.
Neither State Police nor Dover Police have said what led to protesters being detained, but Lamar said he didn't see anyone get violent. He said a Delaware State Police trooper later told him it was because protesters had been told to leave the area.
"It was kind of like a big melee and then I saw protesters just getting taken down by police and they were getting slammed down to the ground, women were getting slammed down to the ground," Lamar said. "People were having their arms twisted behind their backs like pretzels, they were just getting jerked really hard."
Lamar began questioning police about why they were detaining protesters, which is when they turned to him, he said.
"I get tackled down to the ground and I couldn't see it, but I know that I felt at least two bodies on me," Lamar said. "I have really long hair all the way down to my waist and that was getting pulled as they had me on my stomach."
Lamar screamed multiple times that he was a journalist and could be heard on the Facebook Live saying that he couldn't breathe. The video is a little more than 2 minutes long and ends with officers confiscating his press badge and a camera bag.
State Police, when contacted by The News Journal, would not provide any information, but Lamar said he was one of at least 20 people detained, including minors.
He said he was handcuffed to a wall in a waiting area once inside the state police barracks and then taken to a cell before being released. Lamar said while he was treated well at Delaware State Police Troop 3 headquarters — police gave him a chocolate chip cookie and water — the whole incident "disgusted" him.
“People were advocating for racial equality and they were tackled like they were animals,” he said.
Gov. John Carney, when he learned of Lamar being detained, said on Twitter that reporters have a "fundamental right to cover the demonstrations" in Delaware
and across the country.
"They should not be arrested for doing their jobs. That’s not acceptable."
Mike Brickner, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware, echoed Carney, saying his organization was "very disturbed by events that happened tonight."
"The Constitution guarantees a free press and reporters have a right to cover what's going on our community," Brickner said. "Obviously, the protests around police violence and the killing of George Floyd are incredibly important to many people in our community, so it's vital that press have access to cover those issues."
Shortly after 10:30 p.m., Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said she "has been clear with law enforcement that I do not believe civil disobedience should be treated criminally and that peaceful protesters should not be harmed."
"People have a right to free speech and to peaceable assembly in this country and our goal – regardless of their message or their ideology – is to ensure that they can exercise that right safely. Period," Jennings said. "We’ve spoken with law enforcement and that reporter has been released and will not be charged."
The Delaware Department of Justice said it could not comment on any other events at the protests as the department is "still getting the facts."
Journalists across the country have had run-ins with police since the Floyd protests began following the 46-year-old's May 25 death.
On June 1, Delaware Online/The News Journal reporter Jeff Neiburg and photographer Jenna Miller were detained by Philadelphia police during a Floyd protest there even though they showed police their press credentials. They were held on a bus with curfew violators for more than 2 hours before being released without being cited.
The Dover Post is a Gannett newspaper and sister paper of The News Journal.
The same night, an Asbury Park Press reporter was arrested covering a protest over Floyd's death in that town. Charges were later dropped and New Jersey Attorney General General Gurbir Grewal apologized for the arrest and assured the paper's editor that there will be an inquiry in the arrest.
The Asbury Park Press published a story after that event that said, according to the Nieman Foundation for Journalism, U.S. police arrested or attacked journalists more than 100 times from May 28-31, as protests over the killing of George Floyd spread throughout the country.
Brickner said that should not be happening anywhere, adding that arresting or detaining reporters is "not good for journalism."
He also noted the difference in police actions between Tuesday night's protest and previous protests across the state, particularly two in Wilmington last week where protesters blocked the interstate.
While police have not said why protesters were detained Tuesday, Lamar said they had been blocking traffic. He said police had told them to leave.
"You don't have the right to block a right of way unless you have a permit or something that specifically allows it, but I think it's important to remember that what is legal is not always what is just," Brickner said.
He noted, too, that when protesters walked onto I-95 during the Wilmington protests, Delaware State Police blocked traffic in both directions while attendees marched, and Wilmington Police closed off streets for protesters.
"Most police departments so far in Delaware have acted very restrained and tried to act appropriately," Brickner said. "It's just very disappointing that that would happen tonight and that those protesters were arrested."
Mike Feeley, executive editor of Delaware Online/The News Journal who oversees the Post and other Delaware weeklies, called the police action reprehensible.
"Andre was detained for doing his job. The video clearly shows him identifying himself as a member of the press and he was ignored,'' said Feeley. "The violation of his Constitutional rights cannot go unanswered."
USA TODAY Network President Maribel Wadsworth called the arrests of journalists covering protests "unacceptable."
"We have seen incident after incident over the last many days of reporters, photographers, other journalists on the front lines of this coverage being arrested, yes, but worse, being pepper sprayed, hit with rubber bullets,"
Wadsworth told USA Today. "These attacks on journalists absolutely are unacceptable and absolutely must be stopped."
She added, "When law enforcement are trying to keep journalists from reporting on the news as it’s happening, they’re going against our very constitution. The journalists are there to document the story. The journalists are there to shine a light on what’s going on. We absolutely will defend every one of our journalists with the full weight of our company to ensure the freedom of the press in this country."