A police officer is photographed throwing a tear gas canister towards protesters at the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct. | Photo Carlos Gonzales, Star Tribune via AP
NEW YORK – As protests over the death of George Floyd spread throughout the US, several journalists covering the rallies were intimidated, hand-cuffed, shot at, gassed, arrested, and jailed by police in blatant disregard of their First Amendment right to report on the news.
Floyd, a black man who was handcuffed while under police custody, died after a white officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis. Chauvin and three other policemen were charged and have been jailed. Meanwhile, protests and marches against police brutality and over the death of Floyd continue across the the country which started since last week.
According to Nieman Foundation for Journalism, police arrested or attacked journalists more than 100 times from May 28-31. The US Press Freedom Tracker documented 300+ total press freedom incidents as of June 4 from 192 assaults (160 by police) and 42 equipment/newsroom damage. The assault category is broken down into: 69 physical attacks (43 by cops), 43 tear gassings, 24 pepper sprayings, and 77 rubber bullets/projectiles.
Read: US Press Freedom Tracker
Reporters Without Borders, which ranked the US 45th on its latest World Press Freedom Index, called for urgent action from authorities to protect journalists and announce a moratorium on their arrests.
The group’s secretary-general Christopher Deloire said: “President Trump’s demonisation of the media for years has now come to fruition, with both the police and protesters targeting clearly identified journalists with violence and arrests.
“It has long been obvious that this demonisation would lead to physical violence. RSF has warned about the consequences of this blatant hostility towards the media, and we are now witnessing an unprecedented outbreak of violence against journalists in the US.”
In an open letter, the US’s journalists and press freedom organization led by the National Press Club (NPC) together with 28 organizations, called on law enforcement, mayors and governors across the country to halt the unprecedented assault against journalists in the field covering the protests for social justice.
“When you silence the press with rubber bullets, you silence the voice of the public,” the NPC said. “Do not abandon our Constitution and its First Amendment. And above all do not abandon your training. You are professionals. You have been trained in how best to work with journalists in the most trying circumstances. That is not happening here. Talk to your PIOs. Talk to your commanders. Talk to your officers, the men and women to your right and your left. Be leaders. Do not fire upon members of the working press. We are in this together.
“These cities belong to all of us. The people that live in them will learn of your bravery and courage and training through news coverage by journalists. Do not fire upon them. Do not arrest them. The world is watching. Let the Press tell the story.”
Read: Press Open Letter
The Filipino American Press Club of New York (FAPCNY) led by its president, Don Tagala, also issued a statement decrying violence and unnecessary actions by police towards members of the media.
“An attack on journalists and journalism is an attack on all of us. An attack on press freedom is an attack on democracy,” the FAPCNY said. The local press organization demanded a full investigation on all accounts of intimidations against journalists.
Read: FAPCNY Statement
The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) called on members to stand in solidarity with its black colleagues “just as we stand up to racism against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, including the targeted and violent actions toward journalists of color during the protests of the last week.”
AAJA rallied its members to ally themselves to their black colleagues “to better educate ourselves and others about the necessary work to support the black community.”
AAJA said it is committed to becoming even stronger allies of journalists of all backgrounds. “AAJA will work to share resources for our members and create spaces for meaningful conversations around allyship, with the goal of growing together as an AAJA family.”
Within the last seven days, the Philippine Daily Mirror has collected a few of these incidents from news accounts and wire reports. These include:
- CNN’s Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested while reporting live at Minneapolis.
- Gustavo Martinez Contreras, Asbury Park Press reporter, was arrested by police while live-streaming a protest at Asbury Park.
- Bridget Bennett, freelance photographer on behalf of AFP was arrested n Las Vegas during demonstration
- Ellen Schmidt, photojournalist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal was arrested in Las Vegas
- Ali Velshi, MSNBC anchor, was struck in the leg by a rubber bullet in Minneapolis
- Linda Tirado, freelance photographer, was shot while covering an anti-police brutality protest in Minneapolis and may now be blind in her left eye
- Chris Mathias, Huffington Post reporter, was taken into police custody in Minneapolis
- Michael Anthony Adams, Vice News reporter, was ordered by police to the ground and hit by a blast of pepper spray
- Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times reporter, was chased by police spraying tear gas and firing rubber bullets
- Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times photographer, was hit in the face with a rubber bullet
- Julio-Cesar Chavez, Reuters TV cameraman, was hit in the back of his neck, under his left eye and arm with a rubber bullet
- Ryan Faircloth, Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter was hit in the face when a police tear-gas round shattered a car window
- A reporter and photographer for The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, and a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer were detained by police for two hours
- A Cincinnati Enquirer reporter was handcuffed and detained while covering a protest in Cincinnati.
- An Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter was arrested while covering a protest in Atlanta.
- Student-newspaper reporters from Ohio State University were pepper sprayed by cops in Columbus after repeatedly identifying themselves as news media.
- An Australian TV reporter and her cameraman were accosted by police in Washington, D.C.
The continued law enforcement’s harassment of the media in the past week alone might be unprecedented in the history of American journalism. These members of the press were not looting or throwing bricks at policemen. Their job was documenting an exceptional, troubling times in US history. The Constitution’s framers devised the First Amendment for a moment like this.
Members of the press who were covering the George Floyd demonstrations in several cities across America, a few of them listed in this story, were doing their jobs as a public service; it was not a crime.