Journalist protests Austin police behavior during demonstrations
- Police officers trying to control the crowd at a recent war protest hit journalists with pepper spray.
March 28, 2003 — An Austin Chronicle editor filed a complaint Thursday with the Austin Police Department after he and other journalists were blasted by police with pepper spray during a March 20 protest.
“I was in the middle of a pack of what obviously were reporters — between two TV cameras,” said Lee Nichols, assistant news editor for the Chronicle. “I didn’t feel it was appropriate to spray into a group that was trying to report on police activity.”
Nichols also said that a few days later Chronicle photographer Jana Birchum was “roughed up” by police during a March 24 protest. The newspaper published on its Web site a photo of Birchum’s arm being grabbed by a police officer.
“The news media being able to cover the activities of our government and especially the police is Democracy 101,” Nichols said. “You have to be able to keep an eye on what police do. And that’s hard to do when you’re being sprayed in the face with mace.”
In his complaint, Nichols acknowledged that police officers “have a difficult job in trying to perform crowd control while at these events.” But he urged the department to “exercise greater caution in allowing reporters to gather information, and take steps to ensure that physical means used for crowd control not be pursued against news media representatives.”
Nichols asked other Austin media outlets to join in the complaint, but none did.
According to Nichols, the police are required to respond to the complaint and inform him whether they will proceed with an investigation.
The Austin Police Department did not respond to a request for comment on the incident.
© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press