BY TESHA M. CHRISTENSEN
—Posted on 29 July 2020
Over 148 journalists were attacked by police in the United States between May 28 and June 4, 2020.
Yes. I said 148.
Yes, by the police.
Yes, in the United States.
Over 100 of those attacks happened between May 28 and June 1 as journalists covered the protests after George Floyd’s murder by a white police officer here in Minneapolis at Chicago and 38th.
At the investigative news website Bellingcat, senior investigator Nick Waters, who tracked the incidents jointly with the U.K. Guardian, said, “Although in some incidents it is possible the journalists were hit or affected accidentally, in the majority of the cases we have recorded the journalists are clearly identifiable as press, and it is clear that they are being deliberately targeted. This pattern of violence against journalists is replicated in several cities, but appears most intense in Minneapolis.”
Yep. Right here.
Over one-third of these attacks against the news media happened here.
Attacks on the media were reported across 24 states and in Washington, D.C. Denver, Colo., and Los Angeles recorded the most attacks outside Minneapolis, with 10 incidents each, reported the Guardian.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, there were more than 300 total press freedom violations during that time.
• 49+ arrests
• 192 assaults
• 42 equipment/newsroom damage
Assault category breakdown:
• 69 physical attacks
• 43 tear gassings
• 24 pepper sprayings
• 77 rubber bullets/projectiles
The majority of these violations were done by local police departments, but some were by state troopers and National Guard.
In comparison, only 11 journalists were injured by protesters.
“I’ve never seen so many incidents with police and reporters simultaneously in different cities. Tension between cops and reporters is nothing new. Aggression on reporters in multiple locations nationally at same time is something different,” tweeted Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
Veteran reporter John M. Donnelly tweeted, “CNN reporter on Lafayette Square says on air that a DC police officer struck the CNN cameraman with a baton, even though the cameraman was holding, um, a camera and a credential. These incidents keep piling up.”
Journalists have compared their experiences in war-torn countries with what they experienced in Minneapolis. “I’ve covered protests involving police in Ferguson, Mo., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Los Angeles. I’ve also covered the U.S. military in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been fired at by police until tonight,” said L.A. Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske.
As reported by Bring Me The News: Many of the assaults on media were shown on live television, with reporters from FOX 9 seeing rubber bullets smash their station vehicle windshield, along with WCCO reporters Jeff Wagner and Mike Max seen on live TV running from tear gas and rubber bullets. Star Tribune reporters Ryan Faircloth and Chao Xiong were attempting to drive home near Lake Street when Faircloth said they “mistakenly turned down a street that was blocked off at the end,” and “before we had a chance to reverse, the Guard/ State Patrol fired #rubber bullets at our car without warning.” The shattered glass cut Faircloth’s face and arm and left shards of glass inside their vehicle.
And then there’s photojournalist Linda Tirado. Shot by a rubber bullet in the face, she is permanently blind in her left eye.
Yes. This happened in the Twin Cities. By those who are supposed to serve and protect. It didn’t happen in a country that lacks a Bill of Rights.
Instead, it occurred in a place where freedom of the press is protected by the First Amendment.
At least, it is supposed to be.
I’m seriously questioning what happened, and what this means for our country.
For 231 years, this language has been the hallmark of the United States of America, and what sets this nation apart from so many others:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
What does it mean for the country when this is violated?
When it is broken in very direct, very blatant, very violent ways by the folks who are supposed to protect it?
In Cleveland, Ohio, journalists were specifically forbidden by the police to be outside covering anything happening in the city on May 31.
What were they trying to hide? Those without anything to hide aren’t threatened by folks with pens, paper and cameras.
I’m not the only one asking that question.
I’m not the only one outraged.
As City Pages reported:
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota filed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday, June 2, on behalf of reporters targeted by law enforcement while covering protests. The respondents include the city of Minneapolis, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, police union president Bob Kroll, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, and State Patrol Colonel Matthew Langer.
The lawsuit demands an injunction to stop police from attacking journalists, a declaration that they violated multiple constitutional amendments, and damages.
“Law enforcement is using violence and threats to deter the media from vigorously reporting on demonstrations and the conduct of police in public places,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
“We depend on a free press to hold the police and government accountable for its actions, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members, and we must ensure that justice is done. Our community, especially people of color, already have a hard time trusting police and government. Targeting journalists erodes that public trust even further.”
Linda Tirado has filed her own lawsuit.
Minneapolis also faces a class-action lawsuit brought by protesters.
“Journalists have always been targets of criticism and back in the 1960s they were also targeted by police,” said Robert Mahoney, the deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “But there was an understanding that journalists were necessary and it was incumbent on police forces to allow them to do their job. That has changed.”
Why? Why has it changed?
Is it because of President Trump’s constant attacks on the press? He has tweeted the phrases “Fake News” and “Enemy of the People” over 800 times since getting elected. As I’ve been saying for years, just because you don’t like what’s in the news doesn’t mean it is fake. Just because you wish someone was doing something else and you read about it in the newspaper doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the newspaper. In fact, you should be thanking news sources for the information.
I hope this marks a turning point in America. I hope we’ve been sufficiently shocked by where our policies and attitudes have brought us, and we’re dedicated to real change.
There’s a lot for us to be shocked about these days, and much to work to change. This is one of those important issues. I hope you start talking about it, reading about it, and working in support of journalists.
Oh, and you might see me out and about wearing my #PressIsNotTheEnemy shirt. You might find my kids sporting their own #DemocracyDiesInSilence T-shirts. Maybe you need one, too.
Tesha M. Christensen is the owner and editor of the Longfellow/Nokomis Messenger. This article appeared in the August edition of the Longfellow/Nokomis Messenger in her “Too much coffee” column and is reprinted here with her permission. [email protected]