Intern reporter arrested covering Black Lives Matter protests in Baton Rouge

LOUISIANA — A Juvenile Justice Information Exchange intern was among at least three reporters arrested Sunday night while covering protests in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Karen Savage, an intern for JJIE and graduate student at City University of New York, was on assignment covering the Black Lives Matter protests occurring after the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police.

Savage, the reporter arrested, told SPLC she had identified herself as a member of the press and was not told the reason for her arrest.

She was charged with resisting an officer and obstructing a public highway, charges she said hold no merit as she was covering the protest from the sidewalk. However, she said it didn’t matter where protesters or journalists were standing – they were arrested on sidewalks, on the street and on private property.

None of the people arrested, including Savage, were told what they were charged with until the next day.

WAFB assistant news director Chris Slaughter and WWNO reporter Ryan Kailath were the two other reporters arrested. They were both charged with simple obstruction of a highway, according to an article by The Advocate. In an interview with Columbia Journalism Review, Kailath said an officer told him, “I’m tired of y’all saying you’re journalists.”

Savage was released from jail Monday afternoon after the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange posted her $500 bond.

She said the officers who arrested her were “needlessly aggressive” and that it seemed like they targeted her when they noticed she was covering the protest.

“They saw me filming them arrest someone and after that they started following,” Savage said. “They wanted to get me and they went out of their way to get me.”

Savage said they violated her right to cover the protest even after she told them she was a journalist and that they were trying to disrupt her reporting.

“They didn’t seem to care that we were journalists,” Savage said.

Leonard Witt, the publisher of JJIE, said he is troubled by her arrest and the arrests of many other reporters at protests.

“We are not sure why they are making these arrests. To intimidate? To keep them from reporting on police actions? We don’t know the answer to these questions,” Witt said. “Throwing reporters in jail is not something that should happen in a democracy.”

The Louisiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has also called for the city to drop the charges.

Sergy Odiduro, president of the statewide chapter, said in a press release that to do their job of keeping the public informed, journalists must be allowed to report without police interference.

“While it is clear that law enforcement officials have a job to do, journalists must also be able to exercise their right to report on issues affecting the public,” Odiduro said.

The American Civil Liberties Union and a coalition of smaller groups is suing the city of Baton Rouge and the police department in attempt to get a restraining order prohibiting officers from arresting protesters. The arrests of reporters “clearly engaging in reporting activities” is part of the suit, in which Savage said she has made a declaration.

SPLC staff writer Evelyn Andrews can be reached by email or (202) 974-6317

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