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Emanuel: No handcuff policy for reporters

Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens during forum educatiAmerican University Washingt last week.. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Mayor Rahm Emanuel listens during a forum on education at American University in Washington last week.. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Updated: March 26, 2012 5:54PM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Monday he doesn’t “believe in handcuffing reporters” and won’t let it happen to any of the 2,500-strong media contingent expected to descend on Chicago for the May 21-21 NATO summit.

Implied, but not stated, was that Emanuel did not agree with the Chicago Police Department’s decision to handcuff a TV reporter and a cameraman outside Mount Sinai Hospital earlier this month.

“Whether I like what you write or whether I like what you report, you have an essential role in telling the truth. To have a democracy when you have freedom, truth has to exist,” Emanuel said at an unrelated news conference.

“I’m not into — and I don’t believe in — handcuffing a reporter, OK? I don’t know all the specifics. I wasn’t there. I don’t want to speak to it. But, I want to say this: You won’t be handcuffed. That I can assure you today. Can’t tell you about tomorrow. No. You won’t be handcuffed. It’s a serious issue. You won’t be.”

The mayor noted that the handcuffs were “immediately removed” and that neither journalist was arrested. But, he said, “That doesn’t give a blessing or condone what was happening here.”

WGN-TV Channel 9 reporter Dan Ponce and Donte Williams, a cameraman from WMAQ-TV Channel 5, were handcuffed while attempting to report on the murder of Aliyah Shell. She’s the six-year-old girl who was gunned down in broad daylight in front of her parents as she played on the front porch of the family’s home in Little Village.

The Chicago Police Department claims it handcuffed and “removed” the two from the hospital — and threatened them with trespassing charges, but did not arrest them — at the request of Mount Sinai security guards, who had accused the reporters of attempting to sneak into secured private areas of the hospital.

Ponce has flatly denied trying to gain unauthorized entrance to the hospital. In fact, he moved from the sidewalk in front of the hospital to the center median after a request from hospital security.

Reached Monday, Ponce said he was “very impressed” by Emanuel’s comments.

“I’m glad to see that the mayor has our back — especially with the NATO summit coming up,” Ponce said.

“I don’t think it would reflect well on our city if visiting journalists were handcuffed unnecessarily.”

But, Ponce said he is still troubled by the Police Department’s version of the incident.

“At no time were any photographers or reporters trespassing on hospital property,” he said.

During the incident, one police officer was caught on tape telling the reporters, “Your First Amendment right can be terminated if you’re creating a scene or whatever. Your First Amendment right has got limitations.”

When reporters demanded to know what they were doing to create a scene, the officers said, “Your presence is creating a scene.”

With 2,500 reporters from around the world expected to cover the NATO summit and shine an international spotlight on Chicago, the last thing Emanuel wants or can afford is a repeat of that embarrassing confrontation.

“There’s not only 2,500 journalists coming to Chicago. They’re all coming to do, what I think is most important for us as a city because we are an international city,” the mayor said.

“Bringing the world to Chicago and Chicago to the world. That’s a huge economic opportunity.”

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