Philadelphia Inquirer reporter one of three journalists detained by police past curfew

June 1, 2020

Kristen Graham, a reporter for the daily Philadelphia Inquirer, was temporarily detained on June 1, 2020, by police while returning home from reporting post-curfew, her paper reported.

Graham was one of three journalists similarly detained that night in Philadelphia. Reporter Jeff Neiburg and photographer Jenna Miller of Wilmington’s The News Journal and Delaware Online were also arrested by Philadelphia police as they attempted to return home after the 6 p.m. curfew, the outlet reported.

Their respective outlets said the three journalists were reporting on protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 and spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Graham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning education reporter, volunteered to cover the protests that day, she said in a personal account written for the Inquirer. Police deployed tear gas around 5 p.m. into a crowd near Graham. She continued to report despite the stinging in her eyes.

As the curfew set in by 6 p.m. and the protesters dissipated, Graham wrote that she decided to walk back to her car near the Inquirer office. After passing dozens of police officers, one approached her to ask where she was going. The officer urged her to keep her press credentials prominently displayed. So she did.

After she photographed some police buses near City Hall, another officer told her she was not allowed there. So Graham turned around to walk the other way around the building.

A minute later, she wrote, two officers confronted her and put her hands behind her back. Despite Graham trying to explain she was a reporter, the officers cuffed her in zip ties. Graham told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the officers placed her helmet and phone inside her backpack.

The curfew order explicitly excludes working media as essential personnel. But Graham told the Tracker that the officers “brushed aside” her explanation that she was working as a journalist.

Graham wrote in her account for the Inquirer that she was brought to an empty bus that soon was filled with more than 20 women, including Miller from The News Journal. Like Graham, Miller and Neiburg were detained near City Hall and brought to buses segregated by gender, Neiburg said in an interview with the local radio station 97.5 The Fanatic. The journalists, with the other detainees, were then driven to the 22nd District Headquarters.

Graham told the Tracker that she was brought into the station for processing. But a police supervisor told the officers there was no room and ordered her taken back to the bus.

For two hours, the journalists remained on the buses, their outlets reported. In her Inquirer account, Graham described how the buses were not air conditioned and one woman urinated herself after not being allowed to use the bathroom. Another woman had a medical emergency and was eventually taken to receive medical care.

An officer informed the detainees on Graham and Miller’s bus they would be issued citations for violating the curfew and released by the end of the night, both journalists said.

Graham wrote in the Inquirer that she was eventually able to maneuver her hands in order to send texts to her husband and editor on her smartwatch. A lawyer for the Inquirer contacted city officials. Around 9 p.m., the journalists were released without charge but with an apology from officials.

City spokesperson Mike Dunn told the Tracker that Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is “extremely troubled” by the detentions and has called some of the journalists. Both Mayor Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw “are strongly committed to allowing press access so the public can be fully informed,” Dunn said.

Toward that end, Dunn said Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw ordered an investigation into the detentions. And police protocols that ensure “properly credentialed press are essential workers and not subject to restrictions of a curfew, as long as they are not impeding public safety or police operations […] have been reiterated repeatedly in internal communications to officers.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd. Find all of these cases here.

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

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