The worst civil unrest since the 1960s in American cities has imperiled reporters covering protests in response to the killing of George Floyd. Too often in the past week, law enforcement has targeted
journalists instead of helping to protect them from harm.
The press is working to keep people informed about the breakdown in public order during a vulnerable period for the
Americans were already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, record unemployment and the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. African Americans have been hit the hardest,
making the alleged killing of a black man by a white police officer a flashpoint for more intense conflict.
Many protests have been peaceful, and many have deteriorated
into dangerous rioting. For the most part, the police have shown remarkable restraint in the face of threats from agitators pelting them with bricks and home-made fire bombs.
That discipline makes police violence against journalists more disappointing, especially since protestors have attacked reporters in cities including Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Seattle
and Washington. Those incidents include an angry mob chasing away a Fox News crew outside the White House, and protestors vandalizing CNN's headquarters
while chanting anti-media slogans.
The Columbia Journalism Review
has cataloged all the reported incidents of police violence against reporters, including
at least a dozen in Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed. Many of the attacks appear to be indiscriminate, with reporters getting hit with rubber bullets fired by police. But reporters also have been
arrested while doing their jobs, a serious infringement of their First Amendment privileges.
I'm not saying this to bash cops, and I recognize that escalating confrontations
increase the likelihood that more people will be killed, fueling even more tensions. Law-enforcement and government officials must recognize the role of journalists in keeping the public informed
about the civil unrest, while helping to ensure their safety.