Where Was The Press? In Jail.

Evan Engel, Alexander Rubinstein, Jack Keller, Matthew Hopard, Shay Horse and Aaron Cantu have been arrested.  These six men are journalists who were arrested while covering a public protest.  Turkey?  Russia?  No, these journalists were covering protests that took place on 20 January 2016, the day of the presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C. The arrests were more widely covered on Facebook than in the mainstream media. In fact, the Guardian, a UK news outlet, was the first to report on the arrests. If convicted of the charge of felony rioting they could face up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.

According to eyewitnesses, arrests were indiscriminate, with police targeting rioters, peaceful protestors, journalists, lawyers and others.  Mark Goldstone, a lawyer representing some of those arrested, told The Associated Press that the police had “basically identified a location that had problems and arrested everyone in that location.”

Carlos Lauria, a spokesman and senior program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), called the charges “completely inappropriate and excessive,” and the organization has asked that they be dropped immediately. “Our concern is that these arrests could send a chilling message to journalists that cover future protests. A car set on fire, windows broken in downtown businesses: I think that this is important information that the public needs to be informed about,” said Mr. Lauria.  He said CPJ is concerned about what he called “the sharp deterioration of press freedom in the U.S.,” which he linked to Mr. Trump’s campaign, noting that the candidate had “obstructed major news organization, vilified the press and attacked journalists by name with unrelenting hostility.”

While the mainstream media was outraged, justifiably, by Trump’s declaration that he is in “a running war with the media”, and Sean Spicer for using his first press briefing for berating the media, I have to ask, where is the outrage that six of your own were unjustifiably arrested for doing their jobs?

I do not condone riots, do not condone destruction of property, and I fully support the Metro Police Department for arresting those who were actively engaged in such activities.  However, I am appalled by the arrest of those who were doing no more than peacefully protesting, a right guaranteed under the Constitution.  Not only that, but it is reported that police used pepper spray on a couple of elderly people who were not breaking the law, and also used batons  and pepper spray on the crowd as a whole, not just on those who were actively breaking the law.

But most egregious of all is the arrest of journalists trying to cover the riots and protests, doing their jobs, exercising the right of a free press. One of the journalists was hit in the face with a flash grenade.  All six deny that they took part in the rioting, claiming they were only there to do what journalists do … observe and report.  A police spokesperson offered the standard “no comment”, and the journalists cannot tell their side of the story on the advice of their lawyers, so we know only what eyewitnesses have said.  The arrest reports for 5 of the 6 merely state that “numerous crimes were occurring in police presence”. They state that windows were broken, fires were lit and vehicles were damaged. “The crowd was observed enticing a riot by organizing, promoting, encouraging and participating in acts of violence in furtherance of the riot.” The language does not offer any evidence that the journalists were participating in the violence. In a signed police affidavit, which CPJ has reviewed, police said that they saw a group of more than 300 people, many of whom were wearing bandanas or masks, vandalize property. “Officers from the Special Operations Division moved in and cordoned off the group,” according to the police affidavit.

Without hard facts, it is difficult to evaluate carefully, but based on what we do know, it would seem that the Constitutional guarantee of a free press has been broken in much the same way it has multiple times in Turkey and Russia.  I am deeply disturbed that the mainstream media barely touched upon this story, though it may be due to a lack of evidence one way or the other, but even with that, it should have been front page news.  When the free press that I rely on to keep me informed of what is going on in the nation and around the globe is stifled, I want to know about it.  I have every right to know about it, and so does the rest of the country.  Even in the absence of facts, the one fact that was indisputable was that the journalists were arrested and charged with felony rioting.  If the press had reported only that and indicated that further information was pending, it would have been enough.  But I find their silence to be ominous. As Hugh Curtler recently pointed out in a post, silence is not always golden, sometimes it is dark, deceitful and frightening.

Since the attempted coup in July, Turkey has jailed at least 81 journalists in relation to their work, and dozens more for unknown reasons. Since I have covered all this in past posts, I won’t beat a dead horse, but I merely wish to note that Turkey is also a democracy, and look what has happened … is still happening. We cannot allow the U.S. to take away our rights one by one, and we definitely must protect, guard and cherish our right to factual information, not ‘alternative facts’.  I call on the press, once again, to get busy and start reporting on the things we need to know, rather than the red herrings and spin that the administration if feeding you in hopes of keeping our focus away from what is happening behind the gauzy curtain!

27 thoughts on “Where Was The Press? In Jail.

  1. Dear Jill.

    Thanks for this post because I have been wondering who these protesters were? Yes, I am writing the NY Times, the Washington Post and others about the lack of coverage. On the 21st Jan. I was walking with a professional protester who was present at the inaugural events. None of the protesters who do this a lot knew anything about those involved in the vandalism. I am upset that this story is being ignored.

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The police report is shameful. The evidence being used may prove they were present and that crimes were committed at that place but makes no connection between those arrested and the crime. That isn’t the way the law works. To be convicted of a crime, usually you have to have intended to commit it. Unless they could be considered “co-conspirators” who were part of a rioting crowd. But if that is the way the law is headed, then we are headed for it being illegal just to be on the street, which is not the way this democracy works.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wasn’t there of course, but I will say that as a former journalist myself…a riot with abusive cops and lots of innocent people getting abused and roughed up for just standing around…is most journalists’ fondest dream. Take for instance the marches/demonstrations to close the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning a few years ago…the goal of brave protesters was to get arrested. Not that I’m opposed to the technique necessarily, because I believe that the only way the public at large is ever going to realize the terrors taking place if through publicity. Ergo….photographers and writers in atttendance are a must. Things are not always as they are reported. A burning car is a lot more photogenic than someone in a cute hat with an innocuous sign meant to be insulting. Cynicism ….yes.

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    • absolutely…. like in a family of squabbling small children, the kid that yells and cries the loudest is usually the one that gets punished, not necessarily the culprit. If the media had not been all over the “rallies” the new prez presided over, his madman ideas would not have been spread all over the world.

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      • I still believe the media is 99 % to blame for this. They were supposed to report the truth, and not allow brazen lies go unchallenged….. for the sake of neutrality and not taking sides ? They had always waited for any of THAT guy’s campaign rally as if it was a presidential appearance, while we hardly saw Hillary on the campaign trail. THAT guy’s surrogates could say the ” world is flat ” , and CNN would give them airtime to state their falsehoods, to give that impression of neutrality, though on the same show, they would also give some airtime to scientists with PhD’s to debunk this. It was all about false equivalency.

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        • I agree with most of what you say. Clinton ran a more low-key campaign, whereas Trump was the flambouyant, “in your face” candidate, but you are right … the press hung on his every word, and where he lied, it was barely noted. Even things like his lawsuits, his sexual assaults, and other things that would have disqualified another candidate, were glossed over or mostly ignored. So yes, the press has much of the guilt, though I would probably put it at less that 99%, as there is still the Russian connection, PLUS … all the people who didn’t even bother to go vote! But … we are beating a dead horse. Now we need to figure out how to get him out of office before he thoroughly destroys our country.

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          • Although we are beating a dead horse, the media itself is still in the forefront of the news. CNN’s and MSNBC’s bosses have frankly stated that this guy’s presidency is good for business. Good and decent leaders are quite boring.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh, I fully agree — that attitude is what will be the downfall of our free press if we allow it to continue. It’s one of the reasons I no longer consider either of those to be credible sources. We need our press to be investigative and working in the interest of getting valuable info out to us, not lining their bank accounts!

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