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.