Analysis by Diane Bukowski
July 16, 2013
DETROIT – According to the Detroit Free Press, Detroit police arrested their photographer Mandi Wright July 11 as she was filming the seizure of a young Black man by eight officers, seven in plainclothes.
Wright was taken to the Northeast District and held for six and one-half hours in the same interrogation room as the young man. She was told she would be charged with obstruction and resisting a police officer, but, said the Freep, no charges had been filed as of July 15.
Mandi Wright has been a journalist since 2000. She is one of the Freep’s best videographers. Recently, she filmed the complete trial of Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley on manslaughter charges in the killing of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones, for live stream coverage, a job that took great stamina. She also took still photographs, such as the one of Aiyana’s grandmother Mertilla Jones below.
Wright also filmed proceedings at Wayne County Metro Airport as Detroit EM Kevyn Orr met with the City of Detroit’s creditors June 14.
Police claim Wright struggled with them as they took her IPhone. Wright was accompanied by long-time Freep reporter Kathleen Gray, who said she simply pulled the IPhone to her chest. The Freep says the man taking the phone did not identify himself as a police officer. When her IPhone was returned, the SIM card was missing. The film of the man’s arrest, (above) however, was preserved on its internal memory.
The Freep reported, “As an officer begins searching the suspect’s pockets, a man wearing a black-collared shirt, green pants and a ball cap comes into view on Wright’s left and and says, ‘Back up. … Back up.’ He points into the camera and says, ‘No. Turn it off.’
Wright, taking a step back, says, ‘I’m with the Detroit Free Press.’
‘OK,’ the man responds.
‘I’m a journalist, working journalist,’ Wright says.
‘OK. I don’t care who you are,’ he says.
As the camera is jostled, Wright says, ‘Wait. Are you touching me? I’m sorry —‘
Then the recording cuts off.”
Complete Freep story is at http://www.freep.com/article/20130716/NEWS01/307160018/photographer-free-press-mandi-wright-video-arrested.
Wright’s arrest is one of thousands across the country that have taken place over at least the last decade, as both professional journalists and citizens film police actions. Photojournalist Carlos Miller, who was himself previously arrested and charged, keeps track of many such arrests on his website at http://photographyisnotacrime.com/.
As conditions for working and poor people drastically worsen due to attacks by the global banks and corporations, repression including tens of thousands of arrests and incarceration, much of it aimed at poor, Black and Latin youth, is increasing.
The authorities do not want the extent of this repression recorded for public consumption.
Although Deputy Chief James Tolbert told the Freep that he will tell officers not to interfere with photographers, Detroit’s new police chief James Craig has not issued such an order yet, to VOD’s knowledge.
Craig spent 28 years of his career with the infamous Los Angeles Police Department. Those years included the Rodney King arrest and beating, and the resulting rebellion, as well as the Ramparts scandal in which numerous officers were exposed for shooting, beating and framing up hundreds. Craig was on the internal panel which essentially whitewashed the police department in the Ramparts case. The LAPD has only recently been released from monitoring by the U.S. Justice Department.
The police claim they had pursued the young man in a chase, and that he possessed a gun. “Stop and frisk” police procedures targeted at Black and poor youth, with no search warrant or reasonable suspicion, have become epidemic on the streets of Detroit. The police did not want evidence of this shown to the public.
As readers may know, this reporter experienced a similar arrest on Nov. 4, 2008, the day the nation’s first Black President, Barack Obama, was elected. While working for the Michigan Citizen, with my press badge displayed as was Wright’s, I was taking pictures of the aftermath of a reckless state trooper chase that took the lives of two Black Detroiters, one of them on his way to the polls. They were the motorcyclist the cops were chasing, James Willingham, and a pedestrian, Jeffrey Frazier who stepped into the street unaware because the troopers did not have their lights and siren on.
A state trooper sergeant barked, “Who the fuck do you think you are? You’re under arrest!” Despite the protest of one trooper who told the sergeant I was with the media, the arrest went forward. I was charged at first with five felony counts of assaulting, resisting, obstructing, and otherwise hindering the troopers, and faced ten years in prison.
As in Wright’s case, troopers erased photos from my camera, although they failed to erase a key photo showing my lengthy distance from evidence at the scene.
The charges were clearly retaliation for my coverage of police brutality and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy’s failure to charge Detroit cops who kill.
After three of the charges were dropped at my preliminary exam, I faced trial in front of Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Michael Hathaway, who granted a prosecution motion that my rights under the First Amendment not be discussed during my trial.
I was convicted by a mostly suburban jury, who listened uncritically as the troopers perjured themselves regarding my behavior, which was completely passive as filmed by a Fox 2 news crew. I served a year’s probation, including $4,000 in fines. The charges were not overturned on appeal, so I remain a two-time felon. The troopers involved in the chase were never charged.
I note that it took the Freep five days to publish the story of Wright’s arrest. I faced doubt and substantial lack of support from my own newspaper editor and publisher. The Freep, however, appears to have their top First Amendment attorney Herschel Fink on the case.
I am calling on the Freep, and the people of Detroit, to rally behind Mandi Wright as she undergoes this ordeal. It took courage for her to film this arrest, even though it was on a public street and she had every right in the world both as a journalist and a citizen to film the event. She should NOT face charges, and the Freep should file suit for damages on her behalf.
As a postscript, even if Wright HAD resisted her clearly illegal arrest, she would have been protected under the recent Michigan Supreme Court Moreno decision, which upheld the common-law right of citizens to resist illegal police conduct and arrests.