SPJ NorCal Invites San Jose Police to Meet About Media Relations at Protests, Condemns Reflective Vests


The Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is heartened that the San Jose Police Department is looking to improve its treatment of journalists covering protests, and we acknowledge the difficult task of keeping protests safe. Still, issuing reflective vests or other clothing to reporters is not the way forward.

The San Jose Police Department recently issued an after-action report on the George Floyd protests, recommending that, in the future, the police issue journalists reflective vests or other “conspicuous indicators” to identify reporters covering demonstrations. This clothing would go beyond the press credentials that journalists already carry when reporting on protests. (See internal page 7 of the report, linked above.) The City of San Jose is also seeking to begin a reform process in the months to come.

At this critical juncture in police relations, we assert that the police targeting of reporters at George Floyd protests across the country has nothing to do with our clothes. It’s a matter of the police not respecting journalists’ First Amendment right to do our jobs — despite wearing press credentials, despite repeatedly stating we’re journalists, despite carrying notebooks and cameras. Police have shot reporters with rubber bullets, detained them in handcuffs, and made them get down on the ground anyway.

In San Jose, as in the rest of the Bay Area, we’ve seen police who either have no or little training in how to interact with reporters at protests or are consciously violating journalists’ constitutional rights. Journalists from San Jose Mercury News, San Jose Spotlight, and KPIX 5 faced police targeting.

A vest will not solve this face-off and raises another problem: protestors often have mixed reactions to media in their midst, and any SJPD-sanctioned clothing may only lead to more harassment from those who would see us as extensions of the police.

According to San Jose Spotlight, at a recent city council meeting, San Jose Police Department Acting Assistant Chief David Tindall said there needed to be a “fine line on who is and who isn’t [media],” suggesting that someone could throw a rock at police and then claim to be a journalist to evade arrest. Journalists do not throw rocks at police or commit crimes at protests. Any such activity would be a clear sign that someone is not a journalist. Reporters who were simply doing their jobs were detained by San Jose police at protests this summer.

SPJ-NorCal invites the San Jose Police Department to meet with us to discuss its policy on interacting with journalists at protests. We have done so with the police departments of San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento, and we invite the police force of the Bay Area’s most populous city to meet with us to ensure that the wrongful targeting of reporters in 2020 never happens again.


CONTACT: Lauren Smiley and Christine Peek, SPJ NorCal Freedom of Information Committee Co-Chairs