America used to have freedom of the press, now journalists are endangered

At least 57 journalists were detained across the U.S. in 2021, with nearly all those cases taking place in just two cities where media were covering protests.

While the number of those detained is less than the record 142 media arrests in 2020, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents violations against media, says it is proving to be an ongoing issue.

“We came off of such a significant year for press freedom violations, but it doesn’t mean that it went down. What it means is that it is systemic and that it’s continuing; they don’t just stop on January 1,” Kirstin McCudden, the Tracker’s managing editor.

In most cases, reporters are released quickly from police custody but in such extreme cases like that of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who faces 175 years in prison if convicted for reporting on the Army’s cover-up of the 2007 slaying of two Reuters news agency photographers that were killed in Baghdad by a helicopter gunship, the government is encroaching on dangerous ground.

On Nov. 6, 2021, FBI agents raided the home of conservative group Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe in Mamaroneck, New York.

Independent multimedia journalist Grace Morgan said that she was shoved by law enforcement officers while covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, following the acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on Nov. 19, 2021.

Freelance photojournalist Jeremy Portje was arrested and charged with crimes while filming at a homeless encampment in Sausalito, California, on Nov. 30, 2021, for a documentary about homelessness in Marin County.

Often journalists are impeded when police use a tactic known as kettling, where officers surround a group on all sides to confine them, but McCudden says that even temporary detainment can affect reporting.

“When journalists are kept from doing their job — the ability to report — because they’ve either been moved away from the scene, or kept away somehow in the detainment, or captured in a kettle and not allowed to keep recording, it affects their ability to tell the story, to do what they have a right to do, which is both be there and be there to disseminate news,” McCudden said.

The majority of cases took place in two cities during 2021: Los Angeles in California, where the Tracker recorded 22 cases of media being detained, and Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, with 21.

Most detentions in LA occurred in March during the Echo Park protests when police closed a homeless encampment where about 200 people were living.

In Brooklyn Center, 21 journalists were detained over three days in April while covering protests over the death of Daunte Wright, a Black man shot by police during a traffic stop. Wright died about ten miles from where George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis in 2020.

Minnesota State Patrol released a statement saying state police had not targeted the media and that it “respects the rights of the media to cover protest activity.”

It added that following feedback and a temporary court order, officers were “prohibited from enforcing general dispersal orders against the press.”

Neither the Los Angeles Police Department nor the Brooklyn Center Police Department responded to VOA’s requests for comment.

With the rise in arrests, some media organizations and state officials are looking for ways to improve relations.

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