U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter arrested during 'defund the police' protest

Incident Details

June 23, 2020

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Samantha Melamed was briefly detained by police while covering a protest inside the Philadelphia Municipal Services Building on June 23, 2020.

Protesters had gathered inside the building to demand a meeting with Philadelphia’s mayor and managing director to lobby for defunding and demilitarizing the local police department. The protest was part of a national movement against police brutality that began at the end of May following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis.

Melamed captured the moments leading up to her detention in a video she later posted to Twitter.

In the footage, a group of officers places a demonstrator under arrest while a crowd can be heard chanting “Defund the PPD,” referring to the Philadelphia Police Department. A different officer then approaches Melamed to ask who she is, and Melamed can be heard responding repeatedly that she is a journalist.

Seconds later, an officer finishes zip-tying the demonstrator’s hands, turns to Melamed, grabs her notebook out of her hands and appears to pull her arms behind her back while informing her that she is under arrest.

Max Marin, a reporter for local NPR affiliate WHYY, tweeted at 4 p.m. that Melamed had just been arrested. He added that he asked PPD Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson, who was with police at the protest, why Melamed had been detained. Wilson responded that he didn’t know but that he would “correct that.”

Marin reported that after further questions about Melamed’s arrest, Wilson left to check on her status.

Melamed tweeted at 4:15 p.m. that she had been released. She said she believed it was because of Marin’s post. “I can only assume that, because [Marin] tweeted it, a captain came by and said ‘are you Samantha?’ and cut my ties off,” Melamed wrote.

Melamed was one of several journalists detained by police during Philadelphia protests in May and June. WHYY reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent was arrested while covering a protest in downtown Philadelphia on May 31. The following day three more journalists were arrested covering other Philadelphia demonstrations: Delaware Online reporters Jeff Neiburg and Jenna Margaretta Miller and Inquirer reporter Kristen Graham. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented those cases here.

A few hours after Melamed was released, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney tweeted that he was disturbed by the video of Melamed’s arrest and concerned that the police officers’ actions were against the law and police policy.

“It will be fully investigated and addressed,” Kenney added.

The Philadelphia Police Department did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

The 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.

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