Targeting of Journalists by Police Threatens Freedom of the Press in America

Shot with rubber bullets, targeted with stun grenades, tear gassed, physically attacked, pepper sprayed and arrested. Cleveland even tried to ban the press from the city. This is journalism in America right now as reporters cover the unrest across the country following the murder of George Floyd. As journalists risk their safety and health to inform us all on the truth of what is going on in America’s cities, they are simultaneously being deliberately targeted by police

Louisville, KY reporter Kaitlin Rust was shot by police with pepper rounds on live television despite repeatedly identifying herself as press. Police officers tear gassed Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Carolyn Cole of the Los Angeles Times. Michael Anthony Adams of Vice yelled to the police advancing toward him with a gun, notifying them he was a member of the press. In response, the officer replied, “I don’t care, get down,” as a second officer pepper-sprayed Adams. Sadly, these are but a few of the incidents occurring across the country as reporters covering protests of police violence are met with that same violence.

This is tragically reminiscent of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, MO, when dozens of reporters were arrested and the police shot at camera crews while covering the protests against the murder of Michael Brown by the police. And as one of those arrested in Ferguson, Ryan Reilly, points out, the norms against targeting journalists “were broken years ago.” 

But it is impossible not to recognize the unrelenting cascade of violent rhetoric from President Trump targeting the media and journalists as the “enemy of the people.” Criticism of the press by American politicians is as old as the Republic. Yet Trump is fanning the flames of violence at an extremely precarious time for journalism in America. 

At this moment, the news industry is facing multiple existential crises – be it to its business model from Google and Facebook, from the broader economic decline brought on by the Coronavirus, or political attacks from President Trump and violence from the police. The targeting of journalists and those covering the current unrest by police violates the first amendment and underscores the need for press freedom in America.

Today we speak with one voice. The following is a statement from Laura Bassett, John Stanton, and Nick Charles for the  Save Journalism Project: 

“In reporting on protests of police violence against black Americans, reporters and journalists have become targets of violence themselves. As journalists we have a duty to report the truth even if that puts us in harm’s way, whether covering protests against the police or the spread of a deadly virus. The acts of violence and injustice against reporters covering the fight for Black lives against police brutality is unconscionable. It impedes the press’ ability to hold officials accountable and shed light on the fight for equality. While law enforcement advances on protesters and journalists, the public watches their rights, supposedly protected by those firing the bullets, being stripped away. The fight for a free press has been, and will continue to be, inextricably tied to the fight for racial justice. Journalists cannot be silenced for simply doing their job and we cannot be silent as we watch this brutality be further normalized.