Over the past week, the First Amendment has been trampled on by both law enforcement officers and criminals who chose to undermine these lawful and necessary protests by engaging in looting and destruction. The First Amendment gives us the right to peacefully assemble and also gives the press the right to report on such gatherings.
On May 25th, George Floyd, a 46 year old black man was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer and aided by three of his colleagues. Since then, members of the press have been under attack like never before, with more complaints for violations of press freedom in one week than are normally received in a year.
Members of the news media covering the protests have been subjected to intimidation, assault, and even arrest for no other reason than they were there doing their jobs. In Minneapolis there were a couple of particularly bad incidents.
One news correspondent was thrown to the ground by one officer while another pepper sprayed him. There is a video of the incident in circulation in which the reporter, Michael Adams of Vice News can be clearly seen showing his press credential. Adams said he had a similar experience in Turkey earlier this year. “That’s something I would expect in Turkey, but in America, I wouldn’t have expected this.”
Most notably, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his entire crew were arrested live on air for no legitimate reason. Police said they detained them because they refused to move, but Jimenez was cooperative and can be heard offering to move wherever the officers wanted him to go. Irate CNN President Jeff Zucker got involved and within a couple of hours Jimenez and crew were released with apologies from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.
Why is this happening? Obviously, people who are in the process of stealing merchandise or setting fire to buildings don’t want to be filmed in the act. There have been a number of instances of them attacking or otherwise intimidating reporters, however, the vast majority of claims involve law enforcement. Claims ranging from physical assault to damage or seizure of equipment, to unlawful arrest.
Why has it gotten so out of hand now? Could it have anything to do with the current political environment? It certainly doesn’t help when both major political parties try to manipulate everything that is newsworthy for maximum political gain. Worse still, when you have President Trump referring to some media outlets as “lamestream media”, or “fake news” and even “enemies of the people,” that might give some people the impression that it’s open season on journalists who report on things that don’t share their viewpoint.
It’s easy to look at what’s been happening to media members covering the George Flyod protests as nothing more than a coverup. Maybe law enforcement doesn’t believe they can manage the situations they’ve been facing and don’t want the public to know what lengths they have to go to gain control.
Either that, or they know going in that excessive force may be used in the heat of the moment and don’t want any witnesses. But, this is nothing new. It has been happening for as long as journalists have risked their safety to report on what is happening, while supposedly being protected by the First Amendment.
It used to be that our freedoms were the envy of the world. It might come as a surprise that the United States doesn’t even rank in the top 40 nations in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. With the number of abuse claims already surpassing last year’s total, we are certain to drop further. As a nation, we have always taken pride in being able to be critical of our leaders without the fear of reprisal seen in other countries.
We need to fight to ensure that journalists everywhere in the world are allowed to report the truth. We can never allow the powers that be, whether the police, the military or the government the comfort of knowing that no one is watching them.
History is full of examples of what atrocities happen in countries where citizens don’t have access to the truth. Law enforcement officials in some cities have gone out of their way to prevent the reality of the George Floyd demonstrations to reach the public. We the people need to continue to support media efforts to shine a light on the truth so we will never be kept in the dark by people who have secrets to hide.