Is this the first glimpse of what freedom of speech is going to be like in Donald Trump’s America?
At least six journalists have been charged with felony crimes after being arrested while covering the protests at Washington, D.C., on inauguration day. If convicted they will be facing a prison sentence of as much as 10 years and a $25,000 fine — even though none of them were part of the demonstrations.
Journalists Evan Engel of Vocativ and Alex Rubinstein of RT America were among the 230 people who were arrested on Jan. 20. Rubenstein’s Twitter feed showed he was trailing demonstrators who were breaking windows, lighting fires, stopping Trump’s supporters from going to the inauguration and sometimes even engaging in brawls. Even though Rubenstein and Engel followed protocol and showed police their press credentials and cameras, they were also arrested and their recording equipment confiscated.
Jack Keller, producer of web documentary series “Story of America,” said he was detained for 36 hours after being corralled in the mass sweep and then was arrested even when he told officers he was only covering the demonstrations.
Matt Hopard, Aaron Cantu and Shay Horse, all three independent journalists, were also taken into custody, yet not any one of the six journalists was told with any specificity what they had supposedly done wrong.
Interim police chief Peter Newsham stated he was proud that police “used the least amount of force necessary to bring those folks safely and respectfully into custody,” yet many of the journalists’ reports prove otherwise.
Rubenstein posted an image of a stingball grenade on Twitter but there has been no comment from Newsham on it.
Here is the flash grenade they used that blinded me and left my ears ringing. Cops encircled crowd when I couldn't see; arresting everyone pic.twitter.com/bL2ulgv9DR— Alexander Rubinstein (@AlexR_DC) January 20, 2017
Washington Post video journalist Dalton Bennett was thrown to the ground while covering the protests.
The National Lawyers’ Guild also accused the Metropolitan Police Department of having “indiscriminately targeted people for arrest en masse based on location alone” and stated they used tear gas and other weapons.
“These illegal acts are clearly designed to chill the speech of protesters engaging in First Amendment activity,” Maggie Ellinger-Locke, of the guild’s D.C. branch, said in a statement.
In fact, Colorado defense attorney Benjamin Carraway, who served as DsiruptJ20’s legal adviser and was arrested as well, has filed a class-action lawsuit against excessive force by the police. The suit alleged the law enforcement members “proceeded to indiscriminately and repeatedly deploy chemical irritants, attack the individuals with batons, and throw flash-bang grenades,” even against “protesters who had engaged in no criminal conduct, but also members of the media, attorneys, legal observers and medics.”
Clearly, there are a lot of things of concern here. Firstly, journalists need to cover demonstrations and obviously, they cannot do that sitting at home. At the same time, they should not be subjected to arrests just because they are close to action. Also, it is the duty of the police to ensure public safety (and yes, that includes the press as well) and suppress riots and not much good can come of adopting horrific tactics to quell the masses.
It’s also a point of concern that Trump does not appreciate the duties of the press (and in fact, has called them liars on many occasions) and it does not bode well for reporters who could face collective punishment for being at the “wrong place at the wrong time,” so to speak.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters