Press freedom organizations around the country have raised the alarm about the growing practice of targeting journalists for abuse and arrest while in the field covering protests for social justice. American and foreign journalists, credentialed and clearly identified, have been targeted by law enforcement with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. They have been attacked with police batons and shields and pushed to the ground and arrested for doing their jobs.
Asbury Park Press Journalist Gustavo Martinez Contreras was among those arrested yesterday by city police after an Asbury Park protest in support of George Floyd. George Floyd was a black man killed when a police officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than 8 minutes during an arrest, May 25th in Milwaukee. Under the Emergency Disaster Declaration voted on and announced by Asbury Park Mayor and Council Sunday afternoon, the press was exempt from the curfew requirements. Charges against Contreras have been dropped according to a statement from NJ Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
The following open letter to police nationwide was signed yesterday by 18 organizations including: The National Press Club (NPC), The National Press Club Journalism Institute (NPCJI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, National Association for Black Journalists (NABJ), Journalism & Women Symposium (JAWS), Pen America, NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, News Media Alliance, National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), RTDNA, Freedom House, Online News Association, News Leaders Association, National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), and Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).
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Open Letter to Law Enforcement Working to Keep the Peace in America’s Cities
First, you have our utmost respect. The job you are being asked to do is difficult and requires extraordinary courage and discipline and we can see that most of you are working diligently to restore a sense of peace and calm to your cities. Thank you for your best efforts.
Still, we need something more.
You must persuade your colleagues, commanders and chiefs, and the mayors and governors who direct them, to halt the deliberate and devastating targeting of journalists in the field. We are at a crossroads for our nation. Over the past 72 hours police have opened fire with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, pepper balls and have used nightsticks and shields to attack the working press as never before in this nation. This must stop. This is against all training and best practices of policing. Your Public Information Officers have spent countless hours training in how to best proceed in these circumstances. Now is the time to put that training into action.
A few years ago in Ferguson, Missouri, police attempted some of these tactics and they failed. Courts found against governments that illegally arrested journalists and then tried to ban them from their state. It was devastating for Missouri’s reputation. This will happen again. We are addressing here law enforcement in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Denver, Fargo, Pittsburgh, Dallas, Atlanta, Seattle, Washington DC and other cities. When you silence the press with rubber bullets, you silence the voice of the public. Do not abandon our Constitution and its First Amendment. And above all do not abandon your training. You are professionals. You have been trained in how best to work with journalists in the most trying circumstances. That is not happening here. Talk to your PIOs. Talk to your commanders. Talk to your officers, the men and women to your right and your left. Be leaders. Do not fire upon members of the working press. We are in this together.
These cities belong to all of us. The people that live in them will learn of your bravery and courage and training through news coverage by journalists. Do not fire upon them. Do not arrest them. The world is watching. Let the Press tell the story.