Police detained Sheraz Sadiq, a producer for local NPR and PBS affiliate KQED, while covering a protest against a citywide curfew in San Francisco, California, on June 2, 2020, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The curfew was imposed as the city struggled to manage protests in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.
After another day of protests against police violence, nearly 20 protesters led by the Democratic Socialists of America arrived at City Hall to protest the curfew, DSA member Hope Williams told the Tracker. After recruiting more participants at City Hall, the group marched to the Hall of Justice to perform a peaceful sit-in after the 8 p.m. curfew.
San Francisco police followed the march and formed a cordon around the protesters after they arrived at the Hall of Justice, Sadiq told the Tracker.
Not wanting to be confused for a protester, Sadiq showed officers his credentials and told them he was working for KQED, he said.
Around 9:30, police warned over a megaphone that the protesters were in violation of curfew and ordered them to disperse, Sadiq said. But protesters, ignoring the warnings, responded with chants like “I don’t see no riot here. Why are you in riot gear?”
Sadiq said he tried to leave the cordoned area, but an officer blocked his exit. When he identified himself as a journalist, the officer called over a sergeant.
The sergeant said Sadiq was in a “sanitized zone” and could not leave, according to Sadiq. When Sadiq told the sergeant he was a journalist, the sergeant said they would “sort it out later,” according to Sadiq.
Rebuffed on one side, Sadiq said he tried to leave on the other side of the cordon. But there, too, he was turned back. Sadiq was stuck inside the cordon with the sit-in, now about 30 people strong.
In a video tweeted by Sadiq just before 10:30, police can be seen arresting the protesters one by one. Protesters cheer in support each time it is the next protester’s turn to stand, put their hands behind their back and walk away in the custody of the San Francisco Police Department.
The city’s curfew order excluded “authorized representatives of any news service, newspaper, radio or television station or network, or other media organization.”
But freelance journalist Sakura Sato, who was also inside the cordon, was arrested with the protesters despite identifying as a journalist, she told the Tracker. Sato, who recently decided to pursue journalism, had not yet acquired press credentials.
Sadiq, who had a press ID from KQED, was treated differently. With all the protesters and Sato under arrest, only Sadiq remained inside the police cordon. Two officers approached him.
“They looked a little bit confused. They had to check with each other. Like, should we get him?” Sadiq explained. “Then I stepped back and they said, ‘Sir, you are going to have to come with us.’”
Sadiq asked why, and the officers said that he was not under arrest but detained until they could check his credentials. The officers asked if Sadiq would resist. He said no, but voiced his disagreement about what was happening, he told the Tracker.
“Joe, I’m being arrested!” Sadiq yelled out to his KQED colleague Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, who was reporting across the street. Fitzgerald Rodriguez remained outside the cordon but was flanked by officers.
“What did I tell you?” one of the officers responded, according to Sadiq. “You’re not being arrested. You’re just being detained.”
The officers took Sadiq to a staging area, where he was asked to provide his driver’s license. Sadiq removed the face mask he was wearing to help confirm his identity, he said.
Sadiq said he asked why he was being detained, and the officers responded that he disobeyed the dispersal order. When Sadiq said he was a working journalist exempt from the curfew order, the police said that protesters had falsely been claiming to be journalists in an attempt to evade arrest.
Sadiq said he was released after about 15 minutes.
Fitzgerald Rodriguez told the Tracker that he shouted across the street trying to vouch for his detained colleague. Eventually an officer, who he believes was a sergeant, crossed the street to talk to him before returning to Sadiq.
Sato and the protesters were released with a citation on charges of violating curfew and resisting, delaying or obstructing a public officer or peace officer, Sato and Williams, the DSA member, told the Tracker.
Rachel Marshall, a spokesperson for San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin, said the cases were discharged. She said Boudin “deeply values the First Amendment—including its protection of the press,” adding that Boudin supports the protests against police brutality and will not prosecute peaceful activity.
A SFPD spokesperson said the department was reviewing body camera footage but did not respond to specific questions about Sato's arrest and Sadiq's detention by press time.
Sadiq said the police treated him politely but the incident left him questioning why his detention was necessary at all.
“It’s not like this was a melee, a chaotic scene that was unfolding, and in the scrum of the confusion, they swept up everybody,” Sadiq explained. “This was a very orderly, very well-organized demonstration.”
Yet once someone is inside the police cordon, Sadiq said, they seemed to be treated “almost like an enemy combatant” that the police must “screen and verify and go through their protocols, including detention and possibly arrest.”
Sadiq, who is of South Asian heritage, said he did not see any evidence of racial prejudice during his detention. But he worried throughout that his name would end up on a list that could cause trouble in the future.
“As a person of color, especially with the protests that are engulfing the nation around racial inequity, this is a conversation or a monologue sometimes people of color have, especially when being subject to interactions with law enforcement,” Sadiq said.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.