That's what Lucy Dalglish, chairwoman of the local Society of Professional Journalists' Freedom of Information Committee, wants to know. After learning what happened to Bancroft, she and Minnesota SPJ president Dave Aeikens fired off a letter to Minneapolis City Attorney Jay Heffern, MPD Chief of Police Robert Olson, and state Commissioner of Public Safety Charlie Weaver: "The government is prohibited by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution from licensing journalists," Dalglish wrote. "The seizure of Mr. Bancroft's cameras and film is illegal and, just as important, denies the public the opportunity to observe law enforcement's performance during the raid."
Six days later, Weaver and Olson shot back a three-page response. Bancroft was trespassing and engaging in disruptive behavior, they informed Dalglish; specifically, the photographer's flash hampered the vision of officers at the scene. "The officer safety issue outweighs your assertion that seizing the camera denies the public the opportunity to observe law enforcement's performance during the action," the letter reads. "We can assure you, all law enforcement officers involved in the detail acted in a professional and exemplary manner."
But Dalglish says she is still distressed--not only by the Bancroft incident, but by the polite demeanor of the other reporters on the scene. She worries journalists may have been too complacent in covering the story from hundreds of feet away without telling readers or viewers about the spin control. "That's an enormous concern," Dalglish says. "What we were given was a very sanitized version of what was going on. Of course the media has a responsibility to not get in the way, but you must strike a balance between being respectful and truthfully capturing a news event that's of great import to the public."
At the time Dalglish wrote the letter, on January 4, neither she nor Bancroft knew about one final wrinkle in the tale of the missing camera: When Bancroft finally got his Nikon back, the film he'd been shooting was gone. Bancroft says the camera shows that someone "pressed the shutter, ran all the film through, but didn't know how to rewind it. So they just pried open the camera and took out the film."
The MPD's Parrish says it's department policy to leave all evidence intact. "We don't remove film from cameras," she says, then refers the matter to Cathy Clark, communications director at the Department of Public Safety. Clark refused to comment on the matter, but suggested asking McFarlin at MNDoT. McFarlin recommended calling Parrish.
Bancroft says he hasn't decided what to do next; his attorney, Mark Gehan, has sent a letter of intent to city and state officials informing them his client may sue. "One thing is certain," Bancroft says. "The mainstream media should be condemned. They ran a lot of pictures after this event on the front page. And those pictures at no time reveal anyone being arrested or dragged or handcuffed.
"The protesters say their drum was attacked. That drum is a religious object in the minds of the Indians. But the photographic evidence, the shots I took when the drum stopped beating, are gone. So, in effect, the authorities have destroyed evidence of a crime that was being committed. That's why I was arrested. That's why my film was lifted."