The Unexpected

Last Thursday I was covering a protest at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum for Sipa Press when I, as well as several other journalists, were involved in an altercation.


I’ve been doing what I do for nearly 10 years now, and I’ve never experienced anything like it. Being a photographer in DC comes with a whole lot of interactions with various law enforcement and security personnel ranging from the Secret Service and Capitol Police to countless privately contracted security firms around town. Sometimes heated situations can occur for any number of reasons where you are pushed away, yelled at, or any number of things. I’ve certainly experienced my fair share. But never, and I mean not a single time, have I been grabbed and thrown to the ground.

It’s deeply embarrassing to go cover an assignment and end up becoming part of the story in the way I did. It’s not attention I want or something I seek to do. I’ll talk to you about my photos all day long and love doing it. Having to talk about photos that I’m in where three security guards are grabbing me and slamming me to the ground just sucks. Especially at a place like the Air and Space museum, which if you’ve ever followed my Cold War Project, is one of my favorite institutions in the country.

But I am talking about it because it was a completely unnecessary and dangerous situation that should not have occurred. Every journalist there was covering a legitimate news story in a taxpayer funded public museum. There is no policy in Smithsonian museums that restrict photography or videography in news gathering situations. Hopefully by calling attention to it, it might prevent it from happening again.

Yesterday I sent a formal complaint to the Smithsonian. You can view a PDF of the letter here.

I’ve edited the letter for the blog to remove the name of the officer I was able to identify. The above photo is courtesy of Jonathan Ernst.

2 responses to “The Unexpected

  1. Larry Hartlaub

    Kristoffer: It certainly must be upsetting to say the least. I would think “officers” at such venues would have sufficient training – or perhaps they did follow instructions, which would be even more of an insult and violation of your rights. You cannot assume your treatment was by some “bad apple” or just a mistake. On a broader scope, the so-called fight against terrorists seems to legitimize expanded restrictions against photographers exercising their constitutional rights, and even when in compliance with venue protocol.

  2. Sorry to hear about this heavy-handedness but you are doing the right thing: the price of justice is eternal publicity! Here in the UK the “I’m a Photographer Not a Terrorist” campaign had some success at changing the attitude of police and private security firms towards photographers, but vigilance is still needed.

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