Police have terrorized black communities since the existence of slave patrols. The murder of George Floyd at the hands of policemen was far from an isolated event, and citizens own the right and duty to protest the immortality displayed by the police force. We need good journalists on the streets to help tell the story of the fight for black lives.
At the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, many journalists were illegally and aggressively detained by the Minneapolis Police Department. These actions were a clear infringement on First Amendment rights and the matter was not properly handled by law enforcement or city officials.
While these events are still certainly not affiliated with the city of Minneapolis, many noteworthy examples of unjust treatment towards journalists happened within this city. Suppression of free press is an irrefutable warning sign of authoritarianism and must be taken very seriously.
On May 29, a team of CNN reporters was arrested live on air while reporting on the protests. Omar Jimenez, the correspondent of the team, was the first to be detained without any explanation as to why he was under arrest. After some time, the police detained the rest of the crew for the public to see. The CNN team was allowed to be reporting and they were following all the rules and regulations given to them by the police. This incident in particular is a case of unfair profiling and gross police misconduct.
The following evening, disturbing live footage shows WCCO photojournalist, Tom Aviles, being violently arrested by police on May 30. During this arrest, Aviles was forced onto the ground after clearly identifying himself as a member of the press. The footage shows an officer going out of his way to unnecessarily brutalize and harass Aviles.
Journalist Jared Goyette was one of the many reporters injured during the protests. Aviles was shot in the eye and tear-gassed. He is now part of a class-action lawsuit with the ACLU against the Minneapolis Police department. Goyette was one of many who was targeted by the police after being clearly identified as a member of the press.
The ACLU says that these events are an assault on the First Amendment right to freedom of the press and have dangerous ramifications. This lawsuit is a huge step for the Black Lives Matter movement and police abolishment movement as the people of Minneapolis fight to change a broken system.
“The power of the people is rooted in the ability of the free press to investigate and report news, especially at a time like this when police have brutally murdered one of our community members,” said ACLU-MN Legal Director Teresa Nelson.
The suppression of free speech seemed to be an intentional effect of the brutality against journalists at the protests. This suppression also allowed police to better hide the violence committed against peaceful protestors. Many peaceful protestors were severely injured by the aggressive use of force by police across the country. Having journalists out on the front lines of these protests is a crucial way to show the reality of the events. Having live footage keeps people safe on both sides. Journalists are crucial mediators and voices of democracy, and this repeated violation of their First Amendment right reflects a dangerous authoritarian sentiment.
Minnesota Governor Tim Waltz and other city and state officials expressed their regret for the incidents, but they neither punished the officers for their misconduct nor did enough to prevent further incidents like this happening again. While Governor Tim Waltz did personally apologize to CNN reporter Omar Jimenez for what happened, these unlawful actions continued to occur after the CNN arrests, and no real action was taken.
Governor Waltz should push for an internal investigation and help the ACLU with the lawsuit against the police department. He and other elected officials across the country are in a very important position in changing the police system drastically and must not ignore the police’s constant abuse of human rights in the United States.
According to John Bolton’s recently released tell-all book, President Trump has expressed hateful and authoritarian sentiments when speaking about journalists. Referring to journalists, he said, “These people should be executed. They are scumbags.” This type of discourse should be taken very seriously, as repression of the press, to the point of execution, is a threat to all of our freedom. This sentiment is trickling down to local police who think it is okay to silence voices that represent a crucial pillar of our democracy.
These arrests and abuses must not be forgotten or pushed aside. People across the world have a right to be outraged and must continue to fight for justice, and good journalists must be there as allies for the movement. With the help of the press, this movement will live on until every cop guilty of human rights abuses is behind bars and the policing system becomes indistinguishable from the one we have today.