Since May 26, more than 300 press freedom violations are reported nationwide by journalists covering demonstrations against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, according to data collected by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, of which Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is a founding partner.
CPJ calls on local authorities across the country to instruct police not to target journalists and to exempt media from curfew restrictions.
CPJ’s board of directors wrote a rare letter, calling on local authorities in the United States to let journalists do their jobs safely and to hold attackers to account.
Here, the unedited text of the letter:
To U.S. Governors, Mayors, and Police Chiefs,
We write to you demanding that you take immediate action to stop the alarming number of assaults on journalists who are lawfully covering protests in your communities.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker are currently investigating at least 280 reports of anti-press violence since May 26, a number we have never seen in the United States. The majority of those reports involve police officers acting against journalists, who describe being shot with rubber bullets or other projectiles, sprayed or gassed with chemical irritants, or smacked, shoved, or pushed to the ground.
This is not a question of a few isolated missteps. These reports have come from 53 different communities across 33 states.
Many of those journalists say they were attacked or arrested even after clearly identifying themselves as press and offering to move as asked. What is the point of press credentials issued by your agencies if armed officers can ignore them and treat journalists as criminals?
For decades, the world has looked to the United States as the best example of a complex nation balancing the need for security with the freedoms promised in our Constitution. The First Amendment that guarantees the rights of people to peaceably gather demanding more of their government also guarantees the rights of journalists to bear witness.
The journalists covering those demonstrations do so on behalf of the public. Every effort to impede their coverage is an effort to deny information to that public—the same public that you and your departments serve.
The impact of actions here are felt around the globe. Every time an American police officer mistreats a journalist or a protester, their actions empower the despots and autocrats who show no mercy in the relentless suppression of their own people and press.
We know that in many U.S. communities, protests have been peaceful, with police and participants and the press all gathered on the streets effectively and safely.
But when things go wrong, the press is not the problem.
We call on you, as the people who lead law enforcement, to stop these assaults on journalists. Whether the attacker is a police officer or a civilian, there must be consequences. Punishment should include arrest and jail when the crime is severe.
This is not a singular cry of protest. As we continue the investigation of the anti-press complaints, we intend to pursue justice for journalists who were attacked or unjustly detained.
We call on you to make sure your law enforcement departments can do their jobs without violating the rights of journalists to report to the public. That is your responsibility.
And we will keep fighting for the rights of those journalists to safely work in your communities, without fear of assault or arrest. Because that is our responsibility.
Board of Directors
Committee to Protect Journalists