UNPRECEDENTED ASSAULT ON JOURNALISTS
The recent protests arising from the death of George Floyd have focused the nation’s attention on the issue of racial injustice. And that is absolutely where the focus belongs. But a troubling side effect of the protests and unrest has been a trend toward arresting and otherwise harassing journalists trying to cover the events. Time Magazine says it is on a scale never seen before. And make no mistake it is happening close to home. Here’s a piece about some student journalists from the OSU Lantern newspaper getting pepper sprayed in Columbus. Watch the video.
I suppose there are some reasons for this. First, from a numbers perspective, I’m not sure there has ever been the sheer number of protests all at once. So, it is in some respects not surprising that there have been an alarming number of protest related arrests – there’s been an alarming number of protests.
Second, the protests don’t occur in an easily defined area. In normal circumstances, when reporters arrive at a crime scene, that scene is pretty easily defined. The police put up yellow tape and journalists stay on the other side. But with the protests and the riots, the “scene” constantly shifts. So, the journalist who is in a safe space one moment may be in a dangerous space the next moment without even moving.
And let’s not lose sight of the fact that the police are under incredible stress. Things happen in the heat of the moment. BUT . . .
It really shouldn’t be too much to ask that police respect the rights of identifiable members of the media. There is no excuse for the recent arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez. Or for the treatment of the OSU Lantern reporters in Columbus.
Are there solutions? Two come to mind. First, let’s acknowledge that journalists not only have a right to cover the protests and the unrest, but we need them there. They are our eyes and ears, especially when the general public is subject to curfews. Second, let’s make sure our police forces get the training they need to deescalate interactions rather than ramp them up. Our democracy deserves that much.