(New York, NY) — PEN America has joined over a hundred news outlets and media rights organizations calling on the New York City and Minneapolis police departments to end the arrest and harassment of journalists covering protests in their cities. In letters to both departments, the coalition highlighted the legal obligations both cities’ law enforcement officials are under to protect the First Amendment.

“Any targeting of reporters for doing their jobs—keeping the public informed during an extraordinary period of civil unrest—is beyond the pale in a free society,” the letter to Minnesota officials reads. “When an officer knows a journalist is a journalist, just one arrest or assault is a profound and clear violation of the First Amendment.”

As protests over George Floyd’s killing have mounted across the country, journalists covering the protests have been arrested, detained, and threatened, and in some cases directly attacked. They have also been subject to the targeted and indiscriminate use of rubber bullets, chemical irritants, and other crowd-control weapons. The letters outline these incidents and emphasize that law enforcement officers have no immunity in court when violating clearly established rights under the First Amendment. 

“Official support for a free press in these times of mass public mobilization is a mere platitude if the message does not filter down to officers on the ground,” said Nora Benavidez, PEN America’s director of U.S. free expression programs. “Just as our local officers must respect the guarantees enshrined in our First Amendment, so too much local and state officials demand a level of accountability in the wake of hundreds of documented attacks on reporters covering these protests around the country.”

As of June 6, 2020, there have been 65 at least incidents of police attacking, arresting, or otherwise targeting journalists in Minneapolis. In New York City, there have been 19 incidents. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — an effort to document attacks on members of the media, which is managed by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists — these two cities make up the majority of physical attacks against the press in recent weeks.

PEN America, along with 121 other signatories, urged Mayor Bill de Blasio to instruct officers on the ground that journalists who duly identify themselves must not be arrested. PEN America also urged the state of Minnesota and New York City officials to establish clear First Amendment protocols for these protests, including disciplining officers who are found to have arrested or harassed journalists. 

Letter to officials in Minneapolis.

Letter to officials in New York City.