After authorities seize reporters notes, Democratic leaders say they support the raid and decline to address press freedom concerns
San Francisco politicians pride themselves on defending civil liberties in the face of unprecedented attacks by the White House. But when a Donald Trump-style crackdown on citizens rights took place in their own backyard, the citys Democratic leaders had a different kind of response.
They supported it.
San Francisco police (SFPD) raided the home of a freelance journalist on Friday, handcuffed him for hours and confiscated his devices in an apparent effort to uncover a police leak to the reporter. The states leading newspapers, along with first amendment advocates across the US, have decried the raid as an extraordinary and flagrant violation of press freedoms. But as pressure on the city has intensified in recent days, Democratic leaders have chosen to explicitly endorse the police investigation and tactics, criticize the journalist or remain entirely silent about mounting free speech concerns.
What happened was unlike anything Ive seen in quite awhile in this country, said David Snyder, the executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, a California activist group. For it to happen in a city that likes to position itself as a champion of civil liberties makes it all the more shocking Days have passed, and city officials still seem incapable of rising to the level of outrage that I think this incident requires.
Authorities said the raid on the videographer, Bryan Carmody, was part of an investigation into the leak of a confidential police report on the death of Jeff Adachi, San Franciscos public defender. A judge signed search warrants for an investigation into stolen or embezzled property, according to the Los Angeles Times, which reported that the officers confiscated dozens of Carmodys personal items, including his notebooks, phone, computer, hard drives and cameras.
Reactions from some city leaders seemed to misunderstand basic tenets of free press laws. The San Francisco supervisor Sandra Fewer said of Carmody: If he were obtaining this information to write a story, it still is illegal to obtain a police report unless it has been officially released. The law, however, protects journalists right to publish stories on law enforcement files, and Fewer later released a statement acknowledging she was not a legal expert.
The San Francisco mayor, London Breed, who has previously stood up to Trump over attacks on her city, also defended police on Tuesday, saying the SFPD went through the appropriate legal process to request a search warrant and adding: The police need to continue that internal investigation using legal and appropriate means.
After the raid, the public defenders office issued a statement that surprised first amendment activists, saying it was pleased police were working to get to the bottom of the report leak. In the face of backlash, the public defender Manohar Raju, Adachis replacement, later released a clarified comment about the raid that said: Nothing about this statement should be interpreted as condoning specific police tactics in this matter.
Other officials have tried to avoid the discussion altogether, including progressive leaders who have consistently made headlines for fighting the presidents policies. All 11 elected members of the San Francisco board of supervisors declined to comment to the Guardian or did not immediately respond to inquiries on Wednesday. The governor, state attorney general and San Francisco city attorney also did not respond to questions.