Multiple times throughout the 20th century, the United States along with 195 other countries ratified the Geneva Convention to afford protections to civilians in places of violence and conflict. In 1977, the US and these countries added Protocols I which specifically increased protections for journalists.
Journalists are protected under this international humanitarian agreement against direct attacks unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. Intentionally directing an attack against a civilian journalist – whether in an international or in a non-international armed conflict – amounts to a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as well as a violation of the Geneva Convention.
As we have watched over the last several months however, American cops apparently did not get the memo.
After the onset of protests from the death of George Floyd, there were countless instances in which police officers were recorded on video targeting journalists. Some of these attacks made international headlines as they occurred on live television. Despite the numerous attacks of journalists captured on video, very few of the offending officers have been held accountable.
The actions of one cop in Detroit, however, were so egregious that he was finally charged this week — nearly two months after he attacked three journalists who work for MLive.
On May 31, Cpl. Daniel Debono with the Detroit police department targeted MLive photojournalist Nicole Hester and independent photographers Seth Herald and Matthew Hatcher. All three of the journalists were wearing press credentials and doing nothing other than practicing their first amendment right to the press.
According to the prosecutor's office of Kym Worthy, the three journalists identified themselves as press to police. They had their hands in the air and were attempting to cross an empty street when Debono — dressed in riot gear and armed with a weapon that fired rubber bullets and his department issued firearm — began shooting them with the "less than lethal" projectiles.
“Journalists have a right and an obligation to be on the scene of breaking news, without being targeted. These journalists had credentials, identified themselves and were not posing any threat," John Hiner, vice president of content for MLive Media Group, said, adding it is “outrageous that a police officer fired on working journalists who were doing their jobs."
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All three of the journalists were struck with the bullets.
“The evidence shows that these three journalists were leaving the protest area and that there was almost no one else on the street where they were. The shooting was unprovoked. At no time did the three complainants do anything to cause the defendant to shoot at them," Worthy's statement's read. "They were a threat to no one. There are simply no explicable reasons why the alleged actions of this officer were taken."
All three of the journalists sustained injuries with Hester sustaining the most serious injuries to her face, neck, arms and legs, according to the release.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig responded to Debono's charges on Monday, saying "our officers have responded very appropriately, so this should not reflect, as an agency, that this one incident defines how we manage our protests." Debono has been suspended, according to Craig.
This is clearly not the case, however, as TFTP reported on multiple officers who were seen beating the hell out of a woman around the same time, for doing nothing other than filming police.
According to the release, Debono's charges of felonious assault carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.
Given the nature of his attack — an unprovoked rubber bullet melee on journalists — Debono should receive the maximum punishment. He needs to be made into an example for future cops to show them what happens when you attack peaceful people who are doing nothing other than exercising their constitutionally protected rights.