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press@acluva.org; (804) 644-8080

July 28, 2020

Photo from the protest against Confederate statues in Richmond on Sept. 16, 2016

On Monday, during a joint press conference with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said that tense confrontations between protesters and police over the weekend prompted officers to look “very carefully” at those who claim to be members of the press. He also said that being a member of the press and an independent reporter are two different things and asked reporters how police can tell if they are the media. Our Executive Director Claire Gastañaga responded with the following statement:

"Reports of events of recent evenings in Richmond seem to raise questions about who is a journalist, at least in the eyes of Richmond Police Department. The ACLU of Virginia is clear: We agree with others that a journalist is 'a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public.' It doesn't matter what form this information takes or whether the person doing the collecting and distributing is employed by a recognized news outlet. We respect the right of all people to film and report on the actions of police and to document those actions for the general public. We also respect the right of the people being policed, who deserve a say in how they are being policed. No one should be harassed on public streets by police just because they are filming them in action. We support everyone's choice to film police and encourage people to use our Mobile Justice app to do that. We hope that the chief of police in Richmond will advise the officers in his department that their actions are a matter of public record, and that he will discipline any officer who takes someone into custody without probable cause simply because they have a camera or phone in hand. Support for democracy demands no less."