CPD officers wrongly cited curfew to order Streetsblog to stop filming arrest

Image: John Greenfield
Image: John Greenfield

Update Monday, June 8, 10:30 AM: Police News Affairs confirmed that the “Blue Lives Matter” flag patch worn by the officer in this incident “would not be an approved uniform item,” and provided a link to the CPD’s Uniform and Appearance Standards. The document states, “Members will not display or affix to outer garments any items, pins, or patches (e.g. MEDIC, EMT, etc.) other than those authorized.” 

Asked whether there will be any disciplinary procedures for the officer, News Affairs provided a link to the CPD’s Directive for Automated Summary Punishment Action Request System, which outlines procedures for disciplining CPD employees. That document classifies “failure to comply with the provisions of the Department directive entitled “Uniform and Appearance Standards” as a “less serious transgression,” defined as “an act or omission which warrants prompt and appropriate action but does not require a Log Number.” The penalty for less serious transgressions ranges from “violation noted, no disciplinary action” to three days off from work, depending on the type of transgression, and how many such transgressions the officer has committed in the past.

Update Thursday, June 4, 1:15 PM: CPD provided the following statement. “The citywide curfew excludes persons engaged in essential activities as defined in the Municipal Code, Order 2020-3 (listed here under Section 2.5), including journalists. A message will be sent through Department-wide communications to remind all officers of the guidelines that fall under the City’s essential activities to ensure that members of the media can continue to report during the curfew hours.” While the mayor’s office said that the police would send an apology to Streetsblog, and that never happened, the important thing is that officers are being reminded of the law, so hopefully that will help prevent them from obstructing news coverage during curfews in the future.

Update Wednesday, June 3, 3:30 PM: A spokesperson Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that the Chicago Police Department will be sending a bulletin to officers to notify them that the curfew does not apply to news media workers and remind them to practice social distancing when interacting with civilians. They added that CPD would send an update on the bulletin and an apology for the incident to Streetsblog. We have not received such a message from CPD, but in fairness they obviously have their hands full right now.

Police News Affairs did provide the following statement about the arrest of the young man, who is 18 years old. “Officers were responding to a large crowd that was refusing to leave [the Uptown protest site] despite the citywide curfew. Individuals were observed  throwing rocks, bricks and glass bottles. As officers approached the group, a male subject ran from the officers. Officers followed, at which time the subject came to a complete stop. Officers took the offender into custody.” The man is charged with one misdemeanor count of aggravated assault / use of a deadly weapon. He has a court date on June 30 at 5555 W. Grand Ave.

[In an effort to be mindful of our BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) readers who may feel triggered by images of police officers, here’s a warning that this post includes images of police officers and a brief description of officers detaining a young man of color. — Courtney Cobbs, assistant editor]

During the protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd, there have been reports from around the country of police officers harassing, arresting, or even attacking journalists covering the civil unrest. Fortunately that doesn’t seem to have been a major issue in Chicago yet. However, on Monday I had a minor encounter with Chicago Police Department officers that underscored the importance of making sure the police follow laws protecting freedom of the press.

Shortly before 9:30 PM, I stopped by the area south of Lawrence Avenue and Broadway in Uptown to shoot photos of the aftermath of a demonstration, including many dozens of police officers clearing the area. As I was biking home afterwards, on the 1200 block of West Lawrence, just west of Broadway, I heard cries of apparent pain as several officers were arresting a youth, possibly Latino, who was handcuffed and sitting on the ground. Straddling my bike in the street east of the arrest scene, I started filming with my phone to document the arrest.

“I ain’t doin’ s—!” the teen yelled repeatedly. “What the f—!” An officer shined a light at me and, apparently, others who were standing behind me. The officer approached and asked us to move to make room for a squad car behind us.

“I’m with the transportation news website Streetsblog,” I said.

“OK, can you move?” he said. “There’s a squad car behind you, you’re obstructing… traffic.”

That was a reasonable request, so I rode around to the west side of the arrest scene and continued filming, since the youth remained on the ground in handcuffs. Soon afterwards, another officer pointed in my direction. Apparently there were people behind me again. A third officer pointed at his watch and said politely, “Hey guys, it’s past curfew, 9:00 mandated… by the mayor.”

A few other officers then walked towards me. I was wearing a face covering; most of them weren’t.

“I’m with the transportation news website Streetsblog,” I repeated, as I stepped backwards.

“OK, I’m giving you a lawful order to leave,” said the officer who had pointed, who wasn’t wearing a mask. He had a “Blue Lives Matter” flag patch on his vest.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 1.20.37 PM“How does that apply to journalists?” I asked.

“It applies to everybody,” he responded.

“It’s a curfew, my man,” said another officer. “The mayor said,” another one chimed in.

“We need you to leave,” said the mask-less officer with the Blue Lives Matter patch, walking closer to me.

Although I was fairly certain they were wrong about the curfew applying to journalists, I didn’t want to be exposed to respiratory droplets. So rather than arguing, I left.

“Thanks for cooperating,” one of the officers said as I rode off.

In fairness, other than threatening to violate my social-distancing space, these officers were reasonably courteous. The fact that I’m not a person of color probably worked in my favor. I’ve reached out to POC colleagues from other Chicago publications to ask whether they’ve had similar experiences with officers obstructing their coverage of the protests

But, as I suspected, the officers were dead wrong that Chicago’s curfew “applies to everybody.” The curfew order, which is still in effect, explicitly excludes “persons engaged in essential activities as defined in the Municipal Code, Order 2020-3 (listed here under Section 2.5).”

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 11.53.51 AM

Among the “essential businesses” identified in the linked order is “Media. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services.” Therefore, since I had I had identified myself as someone working for a news website (I could have shown them my city of Chicago press pass had they asked), the officers were wrong to tell me I was violating curfew and had to stop documenting the arrest and go home.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office and Police News Affairs did not immediately respond to questions about the incident, nor did the police respond to a request for info about the arrest. I’ll update the post if I hear back from them.

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