For Immediate Release:
John Ensslin, SPJ President, 719-650-0877,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists’ Legal Defense Fund has granted photojournalist Douglas Higginbotham $1,000 for legal defense challenging his arrest while covering the Occupy Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park, New York City.
During a police raid of the protest Nov. 15, 2011, Higginbotham, a freelance cameraman working for TV New Zealand, climbed atop a telephone booth to get a better shot of the unfolding events. Video of the incident shows that riot police told him to climb down. As he was doing so, police pulled him to the sidewalk, forcefully took his camera, handcuffed him and held him in jail for several hours. Higginbotham has been charged with disorderly conduct.
The video makes it clear that throughout the incident Higginbotham was clearly acting as a member of the press – the police seized his press pass during the arrest – and, according to his own and others’ accounts of the incident, was not taking part in the protest or obstructing the police. It is a gross violation of the First Amendment to arrest a journalist who is merely doing the job of observing and reporting news.
“The case involving Mr. Higginbotham is not about credentials or phone booths or civil disobedience,” SPJ President John Ensslin said. “It's clear that he was at Zuccotti Park that day to cover a demonstration, not to be part of one. Mr. Higginbotham was one of several journalists arrested or detained for doing their job. But as a freelancer, he did not have an organization to back up the exercise of his First Amendment rights. SPJ is proud to fill that role by contributing to his legal defense.”
SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund collects and distributes contributions to aid journalists in defending the freedom of speech and press guaranteed by the First Amendment. The LDF Committee and the SPJ Board of Directors voted to support Higginbotham’s defense. He is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 31.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.