Publisher’s Box

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On Wednesday, June 21, 2006, Residents’ Journal Editor-in-Chief Mary C. Johns and Assistant Editor Beauty Turner were mistreated by Chicago police officers.

On that day, Johns and Turner were among many reporters from multiple media outlets covering a massive police operation in the Dearborn Homes public housing development.

Officers from several local and federal law enforcement agencies were in Dearborn Homes that day after a number of people died from using heroin which had a potentially fatal additive, and reports indicated that the heroin was purchased in Dearborn Homes.

Johns and Turner were invited to the development by Chicago Housing Authority spokesperson Derrick Hill, who called Turner earlier in the day and informed her about the police action. Once they were at the development they met Casey Sanchez, another journalist who works for the Chicago Reporter, and Ulysses Floyd, a community resident.

All four were observing the police action, writing notes and taking photographs. Johns then noticed a woman lieutenant with the Chicago Police Department, and asked her if they were allowed to enter any of the buildings.

The lieutenant asked who Johns was, and Johns explained that she was reporting for the Residents’ Journal, presenting her police-issued media identification for confirmation. The lieutenant explained that since police were still conducting operations inside the buildings, no one could enter. Johns, Turner, Sanchez and Floyd indicated they understood and remained outside talking to residents, and taking notes and pictures.

Several minutes later, the four were approached by a male Chicago Police lieutenant, later identified as Lt. Danny Dugan. Dugan asked what the four were doing there. Johns, Sanchez and Turner said they were reporters. Dugan demanded to see their press passes. Johns and Turner produced theirs. Sanchez said he did have a police-issued press pass but showed Dugan some form of identification. Floyd told Dugan who he was and why he was there.

Upon seeing that Johns and Turner’s press passes were issued by the police, the lieutenant then demanded that Johns and Turner give him their press passes. Turner gave him her pass but Johns refused, saying that she knew the rules of use for the press passes and was not violating those rules. She started backing away from Dugan slowly. Dugan followed Johns, continuing to demand that she surrender her press pass. Johns at this point was nearby to other police officers at the scene. Dugan ordered one of these officers, later identified as Sgt. Landon Wade, to place Johns in handcuffs.

Dugan continued to demand Johns’ press pass even after she was in handcuffs. Johns told him he could take the press pass, which was hanging around her neck, but that she was not volunteering it. At this point, the group was joined by Derrick Hill, the CHA’s spokesperson who had earlier notified Residents’ Journal about the police raid. Dugan asked Hill if he knew Johns, to which Hill replied that he did. Dugan alleged that Johns was trespassing and asked Hill, as the representative of the CHA, if he wanted to press charges. Hill said he did not.

Wade then released one of Johns’ wrists from the handcuffs but Lt. Dugan nevertheless threatened to send Johns to jail unless she gave him her press pass. Wade placed Johns’ wrists back in the handcuffs. After several minutes of debate over the press pass, Sgt. Wade urged Johns to give Dugan the press pass. Johns agreed. Wade released her from the handcuffs and she gave the pass to Dugan. Dugan then ordered Johns, Turner, Sanchez and Floyd to leave the development, and followed them as they walked away. The entire incident was witnessed by a large number of law enforcement personnel and public housing residents.

Johns and Turner immediately went to the Office of Professional Standards, where they filed a complaint against the officers involved. In September, officials from the police department’s News Affairs office notified Residents’ Journal that the press passes could be picked up. A Residents’ Journal staffer went to the office and retrieved Johns and Turner’s press passes. On October 5, the Office of Professional Standards notified Johns and Turner with a letter that their complaint was “UNFOUNDED. A finding of unfounded means the evidence indicates that this incident did not occur as you alleged in your complaint.”

We The People Media’s staff and board of directors are unanimous in demanding that Mayor Richard M. Daley, police Superintendent Phil Cline and city leaders take responsibility for this unacceptable obstruction on the freedom of the press. To provide objective information to the public, journalists must be allowed to operate without being hampered by law enforcement or government in any way.

Johns and Turner are both national-award-winning reporters who have been recognized by the National Society of Professional Journalists, the Chicago Headline Club, the Chicago Association of Black Journalists and other organizations. It is incumbent on the mayor, police superintendent and other city officials to explain why Johns, Turner and Sanchez were singled out among all the journalists covering the police operations in Dearborn Homes and apologize for the inappropriate actions of ranking officers.

This incident is particularly egregious because it took place on Chicago Housing Authority property. CHA developments are funded by taxpayer dollars and operated according to policies set by local, state and federal legislators. American citizens must therefore have full and unimpeded access to activities that take place within the housing developments. Arresting Johns and Turner prevented them from covering a press conference about the police raid later in the day, and therefore from informing our readers about what transpired at the press conference.

Failure to respond appropriately to this incident will send the message to residents and the broader public that public housing residents are subject to police state rules. As a population which has suffered disproportionate discrimination, public housing tenants are often under the impression that they do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Americans. Many residents saw Johns, who is well known throughout the city’s inner-city communities, in handcuffs and may have received the impression that she was being arrested for her journalistic activity. The right of public housing tenants to work as journalists must be enforced. City officials must not be allowed to abridge freedom of speech.

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