Images of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, captured on camera and then aired by the mainstream, have been shaking racial issues in the United States for the past few days. However, although tensions between the police and the press are commonplace, the protests which have been held for several days in several cities in the country have nonetheless been the scene of a worrying number of attacks on journalists. . According to several observers, this noxious climate is fueled by President Trump’s remarks against the press, but can also be explained by a certain militarization of the police and by a “frustration” of the police when confronted with images which flay them.
The numbers are sadly impressive. Non-partisan US Press Freedom Tracker reported on Twitter on Tuesday that it had listed 192 cases of press freedom violations. In addition, there have been more than 30 arrests, 108 assaults by police and 30 cases of equipment or newsrooms damaged. The organization normally receives 100 to 150 cases to analyze in a full year.
Large online platforms dealing with journalism, such as the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) and the NiemenLab, have highlighted the situation in addition to identifying and telling the stories of several press representatives. Starting with the CNN team, led by journalist Omar Jimenez, who was arrested live on television on Friday.
In Minneapolis alone, CJR says, at least a dozen reporters experienced some form of violence as of Monday. This is the case with freelance photographer Linda Tirado, who lost an eye after being struck by what she believes to be a rubber bullet from the police. In Louisville, Kentucky, journalist Kaitlin Rust of the NBC-affiliated station said that she had received tear gas canisters. The footage even shows a policeman reloading his gun and shooting the TV crew again.
The night of Tuesday was no quieter for press representatives, as many other cases, including in Seattle and even in Australia, were broadcast on Twitter. Still in Minneapolis, photographer Philip Montgomery, for example, received a shot from the police with a plastic bullet, and was even punctured by the tires of his vehicle.
Violence against the press
The potentially anecdotal cases have become a clear trend, said the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which already on Saturday asked local authorities to “order their police forces not to target journalists.”
In French interview at Duty Agency spokeswoman Courtney Radsch said on Tuesday that she had “never seen this scale of violence against the press here in the United States. […] It surprises me that the police attack journalists even if they are filmed live. It doesn’t seem to deter them, even when the press identifies itself as such. “
Careful by profession, lawyer Jean-Paul Jassy, one of Los Angeles ‘leading litigators and media specialist, says that “each occurrence has its own explanations”, but that one cannot ignore the agents’ fear of being ” caught in the act ”on camera as well as potential“ frustration with this visibility ”. Jassy says we can’t ignore the impact “of President Trump’s vile messages that the press was“ the enemy of the people ””.
According to the lawyer, “it is likely that some police officers at least sense an implicit” permission “to target the media” because of presidential rhetoric.
This rhetoric, notes CPJ, also infects other American political leaders, “who also use the label of fake news “, Note Mme Radsch.
For criminal justice professor at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Nickie Phillips, the problem of journalists targeted by the police “has been constructed as something important in recent years, but which has crystallized due to the numerous demonstrations which followed the George Floyd tragedy. “
For meme Phillips, however, the link between the police and the media is “symbiotic”. “The legitimacy of law enforcement is largely determined by an ever-changing historic power struggle over its image, and the media play a central role in shaping that image and in public perception of it. “
This link has weakened over the years with police use of social media, for example, note Mme Phillips, but what has helped them get better will also catch them in times of crisis, when “myriads of examples of police using force” can be broadcast.
Researchers in the field have noted in recent years what they call “a war on the cameras.” “But while targeting more witnesses or documentaries, there are now concerns that the police will attack journalists from the mainstream media. “
CPJ Courtney Radsch also offers another line of thought: the growing militarization of the police since the wars in Afghanistan and Iran.
“There is a pipeline from the military to the local police. In tactics like the kettling [l’encerclement], the type of equipment and weapons used, and even in the personnel, “she notes, finding that former soldiers are engaged in the police. “With this militarization, the dangers that the protests already pose and the addition of rhetoric against the press, it creates an explosive situation. “
Jean-Paul Jassy pointed out that journalists must always have their accreditation on them, describe with respect what they are doing and, if in doubt, follow the police’s orders for their own safety. “And then quickly report the police misconduct to a senior officer and consider legal action if appropriate and necessary. “