U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

New report: A record-breaking number of journalists arrested in the U.S. this year

Published On
December 14, 2020
— Freedom of the Press Foundation

Editor’s Note: When published in mid-December 2020, this report highlighted the more than 115 journalists in the United States who had been arrested or detained while in the course of their work that year — an unprecedented number documented by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. (For context, in 2019 the Tracker documented 9 arrests or detainments of journalists.)

The small Tracker team, which independently verifies and reports through each incident, would continue to discover and confirm additional press freedom violations in the months that followed initial publication. To date, the Tracker has verified 144 arrests or detainments of journalists in 2020. A record-breaking year, indeed.

Find the most current Tracker database information here.

Today, Freedom of the Press Foundation is releasing a report on the unprecedented number of journalists arrested in the United States this year.

Based on the comprehensive data compiled by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a project of Freedom of the Press Foundation and Committee to Protect Journalists, our new report shows that there have been at least 117 verified cases of a journalist being arrested or detained on the job in the United States in 2020. The Tracker is also still investigating more than a dozen additional reports of arrests or detentions.

The numbers are staggering. Arrests of journalists skyrocketed by more than 1200% in comparison to 2019. In just one week, from May 29 - June 4, more reporters were arrested in the U.S. than in the previous three years combined. Arrests occurred in more than two dozen cities across the country. And more than 36% of the arrests were accompanied by an assault: journalists were beaten, hit with rubber bullets or other projectiles or covered in chemical agents, like tear gas or pepper spray.

U.S. Press Freedom Tracker/Coral Negrón
— U.S. Press Freedom Tracker/Coral Negrón

The vast majority of these arrests occurred while journalists were documenting the historic, nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd and in support of Black Lives Matter.

“This report shows an unprecedented press freedom crisis engulfing the United States,” said Freedom of the Press Foundation Executive Director Trevor Timm. “Journalists should not have to worry about being arrested for doing their job, yet across the country police have disregarded their rights on a staggering scale. Despite scores of illegal arrests and assaults on journalists doing their jobs, we know of no police officer who has been criminally charged for these shocking violations of constitutional rights. We hope this report will spur local, state and federal officials to act.”

You can find the full report — including more statistics, charts and graphs and some of the harrowing personal stories from the journalists themselves — at the top and bottom of this page.

For media requests, please contact [email protected].

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