WASHINGTON— The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University today sent a letter to Attorney General William P. Barr demanding that he direct officers who have been deployed to police or monitor the ongoing protests to wear badges or other markers displaying their agency affiliations, their identification numbers, and their names. Some of the heavily armed officers who have been deployed in Washington, DC, have not been wearing such markers. The Institute’s letter states that the “No-Badge” practices chill the exercise of First Amendment rights and raise a host of other concerns.

“The No-Badge practices seem designed to instill fear and to intimidate people from exercising rights protected by the First Amendment,” said Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director at the Knight First Amendment Institute. “They also conceal information that the public has a right to know. There is no legitimate justification for these practices, and they should have no place in any free society.”

According to the Knight Institute’s letter, the practices raise an array of serious concerns, including contributing to public mistrust of law enforcement and the government more broadly. The letter states that the practices will chill private citizens from participating in protests, and also undermine the legitimacy of whatever demands the armed personnel make of the citizens with whom they interact. The practices will also “frustrate accountability,” the letter states, “because protesters and members of the public cannot know whom to hold responsible when these personnel engage in conduct that is abusive or unlawful.”

“These practices are bad policy, and they also raise grave constitutional concerns,” said Leena Charlton, a legal fellow at the Knight Institute. “The ability to identify members of law enforcement plays an essential role in ensuring government accountability, stemming police brutality, and vindicating civil rights.”

The letter asks that, by June 10, the Attorney General respond and explain the steps he has taken to ensure that all personnel under his supervision or control deployed to police or monitor public protests display identifying information.

Read today’s letter here.

In response to police killings of Black men, women, and children and to the excessive use of force against protesters and journalists covering the demonstrations, the Knight First Amendment Institute staff also issued a statement today that calls for reforms to strengthen public access to information about police misconduct; protect those who expose that misconduct; and guarantee the rights of those who are currently protesting. 

Read today’s statement here.

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, [email protected]