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Chicago Mayor Emanuel Says No More Handcuffing Reporters

Two weekends ago, a pair of Chicago television journalists were handcuffed and detained by a Chicago police officer. The journalists were seemingly doing nothing wrong, but standing in a public area across from a hospital where a young shooting victim had been taken. WGN-TV's Dan Ponce and WMAQ-TV's Donte Williams were both cuffed and placed in a Chicago police van until freed a few minutes later by a supervising officer. Today, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke up about that incident, stating he does not want to see that happen again.

That incident (documented HERE), set off a flurry of questions and complaints about this one Chicago police officer's behavior, questions about the press' First Amendment rights in Chicago, and concerns about how the national and international press will be treated with the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago later this spring.

The Monday after the incident, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) Advocacy Committee's counsel sent a strongly worded letter to Chicago Superintendent of Police Garry F. McCarthy, objecting to the handcuffing, detaining and perceived interference with the press. A copy of that letter was also sent to Mayor Emanuel. (The NPPA letter can be read in its entirety at this link HERE.)

Yesterday, in an unrelated press conference about cleaning up gang/drug/gun activity of Chicago's west side, Mayor Emanuel was asked about the incident with Ponce & Williams, and directly addressed it. According to the Chicago Sun-Times' City Hall Reporter Fran Spielman, Mayor Emanuel said that he did not and does not condone the handcuffing of reporters.

Spielman quoted the Mayor as saying: "Whether I like what you write or whether I like what you report, you have an essential role in telling the truth. To have a democracy when you have freedom, truth has to exist."

It was WIQI-FM/FM News 101.1's Chicago bureau chief Charlie Meyerson who brought the question of the Chicago Police Department handcuffing of journalists up to the Mayor at this press conference. Meyerson's radio report, including some audio of the Mayor speaking on this subject, can be heard HERE.

Addressing the incident of March 17th, Mayor Emanuel noted to the press on hand that neither journalist was officially arrested or detained very long, but added: "...that doesn't give a blessing... or rather, condone what was happening here."

"I'm not into... and I don't believe in handcuffing a reporter, OK? I don't know all the specifics. I wasn't there. I don't want to speak to it." Speaking directly to Meyerson, Mayor Emanuel said half-jokingly, "But, I want to say this... You won't be handcuffed. That I can assure you today. Can't tell you about tomorrow. No. You won't be handcuffed. It's a serious issue. You won't be."

Emanuel's comments were directed to local journalists, still upset about the harassment of Ponce & Williams, as much as it was to calm the fears of a great many journalists -- estimated at well over 2,000 -- who will be spending many days in Chicago in less than two months. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will be holding meetings within Chicago on May 20th & 21st, meaning the eyes of the world will be focused on the city in the days leading up to the meetings, and especially during those days.

WGN-TV reporter Dan Ponce, who was the one of the two men handcuffed on March 17th, wrote on his Facebook page after hearing the Mayor's comments, saying: "My detainment by CPD last weekend went all the way to the top. I'm glad Mayor Emanuel spoke about it."

WMAQ-TV videographer Donte Williams, the second of the two men detained on March 17th, also wrote on his Facebook page about this, saying: "I'm glad to see Mayor Emanuel make this comment in regards to the detainment of Dan Ponce and I."

Supposedly, the Chicago Police Department is still doing an internal investigation into the actions of this one officer who became agitated and detained the two journalists just over one week ago.

Updated on 3/28/12 at 12:20am with additional information.

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