The recent protests in Louisville that were sparked after the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis and former EMT Breonna Taylor in a “no-knock warrant” police raid, have caused mass destruction to the city, violence and threats towards journalists.
I support both peaceful protests and getting justice for Floyd and Taylor, but causing harm to journalists who are there to do their jobs is wrong.
As I watched the Friday, May 29 protests throughout the city where I grew up, my first thought was to hope no one got hurt and that people did not start causing damage to businesses as they did the night before.
Later that evening, I was watching WAVE 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust as she reported on the protests from downtown Louisville. In the blink of an eye, a Louisville Metro Police officer in full riot gear started shooting pepper balls at her and her photojournalist repeatedly.
In response to what happened to Rust and photojournalist James Dobson, WAVE 3 News General Manager Ken Selvaggi issued a statement saying, “We strongly condemn the actions of the LMPD officer who tonight repeatedly fired at and hit our reporter and cameraman, both of whom were courageously and lawfully covering breaking news in their community. There is simply no justification for the Louisville police to wantonly open fire, even with pepper balls, on any journalists under any circumstances.”
Like a professional, Rust continued to report after being shot in the leg and Dobson continued to film the incident after having his camera lens shattered by a pepper ball. Thankfully they were not seriously hurt, but that LMPD officer must be held responsible. Since the incident, the officer has been placed on administrative leave by the department. Rust and Dobson were listening and complying with law enforcement’s orders. The LMPD officer had no justification for his actions.
This is just one example of many incidents in the last couple weeks of media members across the country being harassed, shot at, or arrested by law enforcement.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has tracked over 200 instances of reporters being harassed or injured at the protests as of June 3. According to the group, many of the reporters were effectively embedded with protesters and were likely not targeted because they were journalists. But in some instances, journalists were attacked even after telling officers that they were on the job.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker announced on June 4 that there have been over 45 media members arrested, 180 journalists assaulted (149 by police) and 40 equipment/newsrooms damaged.
They broke down the assaults into the following categories: 67 physical attacks (42 by police), 40 tear gassings, 23 pepper sprayings and 69 rubber bullets/projectiles.
Even citizens have been threatening journalists. Multiple WAVE 3 News cars were vandalized and a WLKY News crew were attacked during the Louisville protests and riots.
It is sickening to see the media being attacked and hurt for just doing their job and giving these protests the attention they deserve.
I want to credit all of the journalists across the country who have risked their lives to cover these protests, and at times, the rioting in their communities. The media can help hold public officials and law enforcement accountable, and can be a vital ally for those participating in these protests.
Everyone wants peace and justice, but threatening journalists is not the answer. As we protest and demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other African Americans who have been killed by police, we need to stay peaceful while also letting our voices be heard.
We need change, we need to listen to others and we need to stand together as Americans.
The media will be there through it all and they need the community's support, they are not the enemy.