The First Amendment at the Mall


Blake Smith was on his way to jail. At least, he assumed he was. The 24-year-old cameraman at the Birmingham-based WTPL TV station had been covering a protest in a suburb following the deadly shooting of a 21-year-old black man by police officers in Hoover, AL, less than a week earlier at the city’s mall. Blake followed the protesters’ chants as the peaceful demonstration at Hoover City Hall turned into the civil disobedience of blocking a major highway. The crowd then marched down the highway to Riverchase Galleria mall, where the protest continued at the scene of the shooting. As Blake captured it all, mall security informed media members they were not welcomed and needed to leave, although protesters were told they could stay. After a brief, direct phone call with his news director, Rachel Montgomery, Blake was instructed that he had a right to cover the protest, despite the mall being private property with public access. Following orders, he went back into the mall with his camera. After several minutes of filming the protest, and ignoring security’s demand that he leave, Hoover police arrived, escorted Blake out of the mall, and put him in a patrol vehicle. This case involves fictional characters at a fictional TV station responding to real events. Students need to consider how they would respond to the decisions made by Blake and Rachel if they were involved in covering the demonstration.

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