We’re hearing the phrase “violent protests” a lot lately.
Yet the protests over the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd two weeks ago are different.
For the first time in recent memory, the press is concentrating more on exposing the violence the hyper-militarization of America’s police forces are capable of unleashing against protesters peacefully exercising their first amendment right to redress their grievances.
Another reason the media might finally be tuned in to the decades of police brutality it has traditionally ignored is it is being explicitly targeted.
Weeks ago, in Louisville, Ky., as protests were ramping up, police shot WAVE3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust with pepper balls.
This just happened on live tv. Wow, what a douche bag. pic.twitter.com/dQKheEcCvb
— Christopher Bishop (@ChrisBishopL1C4) May 30, 2020
CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew were arrested live on the air.
The “less-lethal” round police used again photojournalist Linda Tirado cost Tirado vision in her left eye.
Los Angeles Times’ Carolyn Cole also sustained an eye injury.
— Carolyn Cole (@Carolyn_Cole) May 31, 2020
@MnDPS_MSP @MnDPS_DPS @MSPPIO It has been nearly a week since your officers fired at and chased me and other members of the press. Do you intend to investigate, apologize and take corrective action? You did this; You pepper sprayed photographer @Carolyn_Cole in the eyes. #MACCMN pic.twitter.com/0eTe21ajfc
— Molly Hennessy-Fiske (@mollyhf) June 4, 2020
“I have never been shot at by police–even when covering protests overseas and war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Photojournalist Ed Ou, who has reported in the Middle East, Ukraine, and Iraq, added:
“They literally started throwing concussive grenades in our direction, in the middle of the journalists.”
This weekend, journalists in a group covering the protests in Minneapolis were hit with pepper spray, concussion grenades, batons, and tear gas by Minnesota State Patrol. We had our cameras out, press badges on and were clearly identifiable as media. I ended up with 4 stitches. pic.twitter.com/pR3aoRDco3
— Ed Ou (@edouphoto) June 2, 2020
— brandi (@brandiiimariiie) May 31, 2020
The former head of BuzzFeed‘s video crew Andrew Kimmel–who also had his tires slashed–asked a tow truck driver who showed up after he received “call after call after call” whose vehicles were being towed.
The driver responded:
“Everybody. Medics over there. News crews. Random people that were just here to protest and—tires slashed.”
Minneapolis Police slashed every tire on my rental car, as well as every tire of every car in this parking lot. pic.twitter.com/lchFplYQ0n
— Andrew Kimmel (@andrewkimmel) May 31, 2020
Radio-Canada journalists covering the protests in Minneapolis had their tires slashed. Witnesses told them police did it. https://t.co/9YwfcClMoq
— Sean Craig (@sdbcraig) May 31, 2020
Robert Mahoney, deputy executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, explained:
“It’s been shocking to all of us because of the scale of the violence. We’ve now recorded more than 300 press-freedom violations in the past week of which the majority are attacks, physical assaults…and I hate to use the word ‘unprecedented,’ but it is certainly something no one has seen probably since the 1960s when you had the civil rights movement, and violent repression of protests in which journalists were also caught up.”
There are those who will argue the press is just getting swept up in the melee, that these attacks are unintentional.
Yet in seven out of 10 cases (106 of 148, 72%) The Guardian analyzed, journalists’ credentials were visible, or they identified themselves as press members.
Press freedom advocates argue this is just the latest in a concerted ideological assault on the media.
Robert Mahoney said:
“Journalists have always been targets of criticism and back in the 1960s they were also targeted by police. 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.
“The police used to know who the journalists were, who the organisations were, they lived in the community. So there was a certain level of familiarity but also accountability. But there are fewer and fewer journalists and those relationships don’t exist any more, and that might make the ‘us and them’ dynamic more stark.”
Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director, Trevor Timm, added:
“Going back to the 2014 Ferguson riots, over a dozen journalists were arrested and had tear gas or projectiles fired on them by police. The big issue here is the militarization of police. That’s the real systemic issue and that’s been building for two decades now. The fact that the Defense Department literally sells this equipment made for war to local police.”
From January 1 to Dec. 14, 2018, 34 journalists were killed in retaliation for their articles and investigative reporting, nearly double those killed for the same reason last year. Nearly two-thirds were killed for covering politics.
Referring to the brutal death and dismemberment of Saudi journalist and American resident Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2, and Donald Trump’s defense of Saudi Arabia, the CPJ reports:
“Essentially, Trump signaled that countries that do enough business with the United States are free to murder journalists without consequence.”
Channeling Joseph Stalin, Donald Trump has said about the media:
“They’re scum. They’re horrible people. They are so illegitimate. They are just terrible people…Some of the people in the press are honorable. But you’ve got 50 percent who are terrible people.”
Pulitzer prize-winning photojournalist Barbara Davidson–also attacked recently while covering a Los Angeles protest–said about the recent police assaults:
“When the president declares you an enemy of the state…Well the police, their job is to protect the state, right? So if they view us as the enemy they will treat you any way they choose. I think the police see journalists as attacking their tribe – they feel they are getting a lot of bad press because of what happened to Floyd and so I think they are retaliating against us.”
Last March, Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers trained their ire on journalists for reporting on asylum seekers detained in concentration camps at the Southern border with Mexico, going so far as compiling a list of 59 individuals, mostly Americans, intended to be stopped and questioned at San Diego-area checkpoints, and demanding access to journalists’ phones without warrants, in flagrant violation of the Constitution’s fourth amendment.
Once the free press–the only industry mentioned in the Constitution–is silenced or bent to political will, we can consider ourselves in a full-blown autocracy.
Are we already there?