It’s hard out here for a Black journalist, apparently.
In November, Wall Street Journal reporter Dion Rabouin, who is based in New York, said he was in Phoenix to visit family for Thanksgiving when he decided to visit a Chase Bank branch in north Phoenix to conduct street interviews with bank customers from the sidewalk for a story he’s working on about savings accounts.
Here’s what he said happened that day, according to ABC 15:
As he was standing on a sidewalk outside the building, Rabouin said a pair of employees asked him what he was doing and then walked back inside.
Rabouin said he didn’t know the sidewalk was private property, and at no time, did the bank ask him to leave.
“I saw a police car pull up. And the officer came out, walked into the branch, after about five minutes came out, and talked to me,” Raboin said. “He asked me what I was doing. I identified myself. I said, ‘I’m Dion Rabouin. I’m a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. I’m working on a story. I told the people in the branch what was going on.’ And he said, ‘Well you can’t do that.’”
Rabouin told ABC he was in street clothes during the November 23, incident because he didn’t want people to think he was selling them something. He was also sporting an afro, which is often enough to get a Black man racially profiled even if he’s doing nothing at all outside of existing. But even if that wasn’t the case, why is it necessary to handcuff and detain someone just for doing journalism work from a sidewalk, which many people would assume is public property?
Well, Pheonix PD Officer Caleb Zimmerman wrote in his report that bank employees claimed Rabouin refused to leave and that the reporter initially refused to identify himself to police, which obviously contradicts Raboin’s side of the story.
So far, no police body camera footage has been released to the public, but cell phone footage taken by a bystander who backs Rabouin’s account of what happened has been circling social media. The footage begins just as Raboin was placed in handcuffs.
More from ABC:
Katelyn Parady’s footage does not begin until several minutes after the interaction between Rabouin and Zimmerman begins. But the first comments recorded in the video show her disputing the officer’s claims.
“I heard him say he was going to leave. This is ridiculous. He’s a reporter,” the video captures Parady saying as she holds the phone.
Rabouin told ABC15 that the officer didn’t want to look at his credentials or let him walk away.
“’If this isn’t public property and I don’t have a legal right to be here, if you’re telling me that’s not what this is, fine, I’ll move.’ And he literally, kind of, shifted his body to keep me from moving or going anywhere,” Rabouin said. “And after we talked a little more, he said, ‘I’m done with this.’ And he started grabbing me. Grabbing at my arms. And I was kind of flustered and drew back. And he was like, ‘This could get bad for you if you don’t comply and don’t do what I say.’ So he grabs my arms and really wrenches them behind my back and proceeds to put me in handcuffs.”
Yeah, not going to lie—this just looks like a cop got frustrated because Rabouin tried to talk to him cordially instead of immediately bending to his every command. But whatever, I wasn’t there. Sure would be nice if there was a body-worn video recording device cops use while on duty that could be released for public viewing. Is that even a thing?
Anyway, the cell phone footage shows that when Officer Zimmerman walked Rabouin over to his patrol car, Rabouin expressed that he didn’t want to get inside.
“I didn’t trust what was going to happen,” he told ABC15. “While the woman was recording, I thought the odds of him not doing anything to me whether physically or anything else are a lot higher. Once he closes that door, he could take off, He could take me somewhere. I could be placed under arrest.”
What’s interesting is that a couple of minutes after police backup arrives at the scene, Zimmerman takes the handcuffs of Rabouin, who is then released.
In response to a letter sent by Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray to Phoenix Police Chief Michael Sullivan in which Murray said he was “appalled and concerned that officers at your department would attempt to interfere with Mr. Rabouin’s constitutional right to engage in journalism and purport to limit anyone’s presence in a public location,” the department released the following statement:
The Phoenix Police Department received a letter from the Editor in Chief of the Wall Street Journal expressing concerns about an interaction with one of their reporters and a Phoenix police officer. This letter was shared with our Professional Standard Bureau for review and they are conducting an administrative investigation. Once the administrative investigation is complete, it will be made available as part of a public records request. Bank personnel contacted police after they received customer complaints that a man was approaching people as they entered the bank asking them personal questions. The interaction between the officer and the man who was the subject of the complaint took place on private property.”
Rabouin told ABC that weeks after the altercation, he received a call from a police officer saying they had reviewed what happened and found the responding officer had done nothing wrong, which just seems all too typical.
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