Lawsuit seeks redress for media under attack
These are unprecedented days in the history of America. That’s why it’s vital journalists be on the scene, to be the eyes and ears of those who are not present to witness events unfolding.
Which is why the lawsuit filed by a freelance journalist with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union is important not just to journalists but to anyone who seeks the truth.
In recent days, reporters covering demonstrations touched off by the death of Minnesota resident George Floyd have been shot at, manhandled, gassed or arrested while working.
The Associated Press reports one organization has logged more than 230 incidents targeting journalists since Floyd’s death. In fact, AP on Tuesday night captured film of New York police shoving and swearing at two of its journalists while they were documenting arrests after a curfew went into effect. Journalists covering the story are exempt from the curfew.
Since Floyd’s death, AP said as of Wednesday, there have been 233 reported incidents of assault, arrests or equipment damage against the press, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Fifty-five of them have been in Minnesota, far more than any other state.
Nationally, there were 34 reported assaults against a reporter in 2019 — and 153 in the first three days of this week, the organization said.
The person who filed the suit, freelance photographer Jared Goyette said: “The press is under assault in our country.”
Goyette was shot in the face May 27 by police using rubber bullets, according to the complaint. The lawsuit documents charges by more than 30 people who were set upon by authorities despite clearly identifying themselves as working journalists.
Some of the other attacks include: freelance journalist Linda Tirado was blinded in one eye after being shot in the face. MSNBC’s Ali Velshi was fired upon after identifying himself as a journalist and being told, “we don’t care.” Vice magazine’s Michael Adams was thrown to the ground by police and pepper sprayed from inches away, the complaint said.
Photographer Lucas Jackson, who was hit by pepper spray and ammunition, told lawyers that “I’ve been hit because I’ve been in the wrong place before. I’ve never been aimed at so deliberately so many times while I was avoiding it.”
We realize there are some who don’t respect journalists and others who actually feel deep hatred for those who cover the news. To them, we offer this quote from a former TV news executive: “We should not be silent,” said ex-NBC News executive Bill Wheatley. “We play a role in the democracy and we shouldn’t be under attack by people who should be enforcing the laws of society.”
This battle isn’t exactly new, as journalists have always been at risk in reporting the news. And those in charge recognized this. As American founding father Thomas Jefferson said: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Or there are these words from a beloved TV news anchor, Walter Cronkite: “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
We shall be watching the lawsuit’s progress with great interest. We hope you all do, too.