Dozens of media law scholars from around the United States issued a statement today calling on law enforcement and government officials to safeguard journalists during protests associated with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week.
“Beyond the continued violent treatment of marginalized people at the hands of law enforcement, the past several days have been marked by arrests, harassment and assault of citizens and journalists as they engaged in protected First Amendment activity documenting public protests,” the statement says.
The statement alludes to the fact that journalism is a function filled not just by professionals but also, at times, citizens with cell phones. The viral video of Floyd’s death at the hands of four police officers was taken by a 17-year-old high school junior who happened to be walking to the store when she came upon the scene. While she is not a journalist, the teen performed the role of journalism by gathering and distributing news of public interest in an independent fashion.
The media law scholars’ statement continues, “It was, after all, the video of police assaulting and killing George Floyd, captured by a teenager engaged in a protected activity with her cellphone, which began the tumultuous events of the two weeks. The President and members of his Cabinet take an oath to defend these rights, not to abuse their offices and positions of power to silence dissenters who object to this administration.”
The signatories’ statement was issued by the Law and Policy Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, based in Columbia, South Carolina. (Disclosure: I am a member and past head of the AEJMC Law and Policy Division).