U.S. Press Freedom Tracker
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BLM and unprecedented aggressions against media

May 25, 2024

We’re documenting assaults, arrests of journalists covering the Black Lives Matter movement and media whose coverage has been subjected to legal orders, like subpoenas.

REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

“I’m press! I’m press!” Shortly after taking this photograph of a Minneapolis police officer clearing a cameraman from near the police department’s Fifth Precinct on May 30, 2020, Reuters photojournalist Adam Bettcher was shot at with a projectile.

— REUTERS/Adam Bettcher

Starting in 2013 and fueled by the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown and others, “Black Lives Matter” catapulted from a social media hashtag to a social justice movement, representing millions of people across the globe speaking out against police brutality and racism.

Using the tag “Black Lives Matter,” the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents aggressions against journalists who are covering the movement — including their assaults and arrests — and news organizations whose coverage of the issue has been subjected to legal orders, like subpoenas for testimony or reporting materials.

BLM press freedom aggressions by category

From database launch, protests against police brutality

In September 2017, just after the Tracker database launched, thousands took to the streets in St. Louis, Missouri, to protest the acquittal of Jason Stockley, a white former St. Louis police officer who in 2011 fatally shot Anthony Lamar Smith, a Black man.

In a two-week time span, at least a dozen journalists were arrested, assaulted or both while covering protests there. Of the 11 assaults of journalists, all but one were at the hands of law enforcement.

In 2018 and 2019, journalists continued to cover social justice protests, from Chicago to Memphis, Tennessee, and into California, where in March 2019 three journalists were arrested in Sacramento as demonstrators protested the district attorney’s decision to not bring criminal charges against officers in the 2018 shooting death of Stephon Clark, a Black man.

In total, from 2017 through mid-2020, when George Floyd was murdered, the Tracker documented nearly three dozen press freedom violations against journalists around Black Lives Matter, mostly arrests and assaults at protests.

BLM press freedom aggressions by location

Unprecedented attacks on journalists

As videos of a white Minneapolis police officer killing George Floyd, a Black man, on May 25, 2020, went viral, so did the outrage against police brutality. Large-scale national protests — met with aggressive law enforcement reaction — were covered coast-to-coast by journalists, many of whom were also arrested or assaulted, often tear-gassed and hit with projectiles like rubber bullets.

Within three months of Floyd’s murder, the Tracker documented more press freedom violations than it had in the three years before: over 100 journalists arrested or detained and nearly 500 physically attacked, hit with rubber bullets or otherwise assaulted.

Following Floyd’s death, the majority of assaults of journalists were by law enforcement; of the 640 assaults documented by the Tracker, more than 80% were at the hands of local, state or federal officers.

In July, the federal government’s response to journalists and legal observers in Portland, Oregon, was so aggressive that it led a judge to issue a temporary restraining order on the Department of Homeland Security for targeting and attacking them.

“You might think: How bad is it for journalists covering Portland that a judge has to step in?” Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm wrote in July 2020. “Very bad, and we have the data to prove it.”

BLM press freedom aggressions by year

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was murdered, journalists were assaulted at least 65 times, and 20 were arrested or detained by law enforcement. The nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center also became a flashpoint for protests in the spring of 2021, following the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a Black man, by a white police officer during a traffic stop. More than 20 journalists were arrested or detained and more than 30 assaulted, nearly all by law enforcement, while covering the protests that followed.

Over three days in Iowa, five journalists were assaulted; two of those were arrested while covering protests. For one of those journalists, Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, the city refused to drop the charges against her, instead taking her to trial despite receiving wide criticism. While the ordeal lasted nearly a year, she was swiftly acquitted by a jury.

To find all press freedom aggressions against journalists and news organizations covering the Black Lives Matter movement, use the tag to search the database.

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