Independent journalist’s equipment searched while reporting on Chicago protest

August 15, 2020

Independent journalist Raven Geary said her bag was searched by police without her consent while she reported on a protest in Chicago, Illinois, on Aug. 15, 2020.

Geary, a freelancer who later wrote about the demonstration for the Chicago Reader, was covering a protest against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protests against racial injustice had been held across the United States since George Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

Geary was following protesters in downtown Chicago when she first noticed that police had the group surrounded on all sides, she told the Tracker. She was toward the back of the group of protesters when she saw people running and police chasing people, she said. On LaSalle Street, she said, police moved in to form a ring around the group to block protesters from leaving — a tactic called “kettling.”

While one line of officers closed in tightly to restrict the group of protesters, another line of police formed an outer ring, she said, adding that she was stuck in the “no man’s land” between the two rings.

Geary estimated that she was in the space between the two lines of police for about five minutes. At first, she tried to film police arresting people from the group of protesters who had been restricted against the side of the building, she said, but police officers kept her back by swinging their bicycles at her in an aggressive way.

After a few minutes, she said police forced her to move away. A video she posted on Twitter shows multiple officers with bicycles walking toward her and a few other people along the street, repeating, “Move back! Move back!” Geary shouts out, “I’m press! I’m press!” multiple times.

Geary told the Tracker that once she had been pushed to the outer ring of police, officers demanded that she and protesters who had been in the same area hand over their belongings in order to leave.

A video published by the Chicago Reader on YouTube shows Geary, wearing a black helmet with bright green tape marked “press,” standing near a wall in front of a line of police officers.

One officer grabs her backpack, which is also marked “press,” from her, turns it upside down and shakes it repeatedly, spilling her belongings onto the ground. In a YouTube video posted by Chicago Reader, Geary can be heard saying, “I am a reporter! I am a reporter!”

Geary said she was able to grab some of her items, but couldn’t get everything before she was forced to leave. She lost an insulated water bottle, a pair of shoes and a bike tool, she said. The phone she was using to report that day wasn’t searched or seized, she said, and she had no other reporting equipment with her at the time.

Geary said she didn’t report the incident to the police because she believed it would be a waste of time.

A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said in a statement that anybody who feels they were mistreated by an officer can file a complaint. The department “strives to treat all individuals our officers encounter with respect and remains committed to ensuring members of the press are able to do their jobs safely,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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