Protests persist in the aftermath of the unjust murder of George Floyd. Its main themes consist of the need for police reform, ending police brutality, and systemic racism. During these protests, assaults and harassments have been unleashed on reporters — collateral damage to an increasingly hostile law enforcement.
Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, called for an investigation into why D.C. police officers in riot gear assaulted two of its journalists covering a rally on June 1. Australia Channel 7’s Amelia Brace and her cameraman Tim Myers were on assignment as officers and National Guard soldiers violently began dispersing the crowd. An officer slammed Myers with a riot shield that knocked his camera to the ground. As Myers and Brace ran, another officer also swung a baton at Brace’s back.
“The violence that has occurred towards members of the media … with tear gas being fired, and with the media being assaulted, is completely unacceptable,” Brace told Australia’s viewers a day later. “We got those welts from rubber bullets. It similar to if you were shot too closely by a paintball gun … We had to snake our way through the crowd — just to get away from those police officers. It was an absolutely terrifying experience.” The United States Park Police later announced that the two officers involved in the incident were demoted to desk duties.
(2 of 2) "As is consistent with our established practices and procedures, two U.S. Park Police officers have been assigned to administrative duties, while an investigation takes place regarding the incident with the Australian Press."
— USPPNEWS (@usparkpolicepio) June 3, 2020
There have been a host of violent attacks on reporters in recent days, but this attack exhibits a clear consequence to an administration that too often denigrates journalists as “fake news.”
“First thing that crossed my mind was, ‘not again!’ Then I [felt] sadness and anger,” Mahir Sahinovic, a Bosnian journalist tells me in reaction to this media crackdown in the U.S. “I would not stand with my hands down if someone attacks me for doing my job,” continues Sahinovic who has worked with Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in Sarajevo.
“I’ve noticed a trend of increased violence against journalists all over the world,” he continues. “What’s worse is that officials often blame journalists for the bad things that happen in a country just because they are investigating and writing the truth. [In so doing] they put targets on our heads. [This] makes our job even more dangerous when it comes to riots or protests.”
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is a non-government organization that champions press freedom. “In the six days and nights of protests across America in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, journalists have been assaulted, harassed, pepper sprayed, shot with rubber bullets, and arrested on live TV,” writes CPJ”s Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists can’t do that job without the respect of the public and the support of local law enforcement.”
The most poignant and meaningful speech lately may have come from Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia who told demonstrators on June 4: “There is something better on the other side of this for us, and there’s something better on the other side for our children’s children.”
Bottoms’ simple message speaks to idealism and civil disobedience — a nice antidote to nasty vitriol that too often leads to violence. In addition, press freedom must remain one of the main pillars in a true democracy.