Sacramento police temporarily detained a journalist and arrested two more on Monday evening during a protest over a prosecutor’s decision not to charge the police who shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, last year. Among those detained or arrested were newspaper reporters Dale Kasler of The Sacramento Bee, Scott Rodd of The Sacramento Business Journal, and student journalist William Coburn of the The State Hornet, a student publication at Sacramento State University. Kasler, who has been a reporter at The Sacramento Bee for 23 years, was live-streaming among a group of protesters when police in riot gear surrounded the crowd and began making arrests on the grounds of failure to disperse. Despite showing police his press pass and shouts from his colleagues confirming he was a reporter, Kasler was detained for an hour before being released. Rodd and Coburn were among the 84, including members of the clergy, that police arrested at the protest. In addition, Sacramento Bee photographer Hector Amezcua said a police officer with a baton shoved him to the ground at one point, damaging the camera he had been using to record.
“The arrest and rough treatment of several journalists who were covering a protest is incompatible with the free press protections enshrined in the United States Constitution,” said Daphne Pellegrino, Advocacy Officer for RSF’s North America bureau. “We call on the Sacramento Police Department to engage with its staff on the proper way to treat members of the press in such environments so this does not recur.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the city council have since called for the city’s Office of Public Safety Accountability to investigate how Sacramento police handled last night’s protest, including the way police differentiate between the press and the public during protests.
RSF has previously reported on journalist arrests made during protests in the United States and in October 2017 signed a joint letter to the St. Louis, Missouri, mayor’s office calling for an investigation into police conduct toward journalists covering protests in the city after at least ten journalists were arrested in the span of two months. Of the 34 journalist arrests made in the United States that year, 88 percent took place at protests or rallies.
The United States ranks 45th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.