160 Threats to Press Freedom in the United States—This Week

A comprehensive list of violence, police abuse and restrictions on journalists covering protests this week

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the 43rd issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.

A List I Didn’t Want to Make

The country is at the brink. At times like this—unprecedented times—it’s worth re-reading the First Amendment, which allows us to speak, to publish, to assemble, to protest, and to practice our religion of choice without state interference.

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.

I’m delaying my typical newsletter a day or two… hence the Part I you see in the headline.

For today, I have compiled a list. It’s a list I wish I didn’t have to make. Rather, I wish the incidents it details did not happen.

In this spreadsheet, I identify 160 threats to press freedom that have transpired amid the George Floyd protests in the United States this week.

Let’s note: Not every item is equal in gravity. Some instances are simple and you may be well reasoned to wonder “How could the police avoided that?” Others are serious violations of press freedom by an over-militarized state.

I include arrests, police beatings, pepper spraying, shootings with rubber bullets or other projectiles, incidents where police forced journalists to the ground, forced them into pepper spray, or wrongly denied them certain access.

I want to say that the First Amendment does not specify the press as a special class of people, as Wesley Lowery rightly noted on Twitter. The press is however administratively exempt from most curfew, and you will see those exemptions were often ignored by police. At the end of the day, we have the same rights and protections as citizens.

So view this as you want. View it as an assault on press freedom. View it as a microcosm of a much larger issue of police targeting and exercising unjust force on all Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. I think those can both be true.

Many of the incidents I document came after or seemingly because journalists identified themselves as press. Many had press badges on, gave verbal indications, wore press vests or helmets—and many were blatantly ignored or targeted for that.

In the time when journalists are still seen as the “enemy of the people” by the president, I believe advocating for press freedom specifically is crucial.

So, I share this conclusion with Freedom of the Press Foundation executive director Trevor Timm:

“Police are purposefully targeting reporters all over the country, in video after video. There’s no other way to describe it.”

This list is incomplete. Please share with me any updates you may find and I’ll add them to the list over the coming days. This could not be possible without the hard work and aggregation of others: namely, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, The Guardian’s Michael Safi, Bellingcat’s Nick Waters, photographer Fontaine Carpenter, and everyone who wrote one of the articles to which I linked.

There is so much going on in the country right now. It seems like it’s about to burst. We’ve been stuck inside for months. 105,000 people are dead from a pandemic in the U.S. alone. Black people continuously watch as their brothers and sisters are targeted and killed by the police. The president wants to invoke a centuries-old law to order the military to crack down on protest in the country.

And journalists much braver than me are putting their health, well being, autonomy, and physical safety at risk to report important news amid a pandemic. A CNN correspondent was arrested live on air. A freelance reporter was permanently blinded by a police projectile.

Freedom of the press isn’t free. There’s a price to pay. Here are 160 reasons why. There will be more.



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