ACLU OP-EDS: Racial Terror, Protesters and Journalists Brutalized

Yesterday, we were approached by the ACLU with three commentaries, that taken together, serve as somewhat of an essay on the current moment. 

The opinions expressed in these pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Corvallis Advocate, or its staff. However, we believe the ACLU codifies viewpoints currently moving through the community conscience in a particularly succinct and articulate manner. Additionally, we are aware the ACLU has come out in favor of police divestment, which we see as a materially separate matter from the content of these commentaries, and a matter on which views may vary, even among our own staff.   

The Time for Thoughts and Prayers is Over 

By Jeffrey Robinson  

Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality 

 

Minneapolis police conducted a racial terror lynching of George Floyd in broad daylight. President Trump’s reaction tells you all you need to know about his commitment to seriously address racism in America. 

 

A police officer with his hand casually in his pocket knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes while several colleagues watched or knelt on other parts of Mr. Floyd’s body. The officers knew people were filming, but they were confident no one would stop them. They were right, and they killed Mr. Floyd without interference from anyone, apart from the cries of horrified bystanders. After all, they had badges and guns. On that day, Minneapolis police conducted a racial terror lynching of George Floyd in broad daylight that was filmed by onlookers and then sent across America.  President Trump’s reaction tells you all you need to know about his commitment to seriously address racism in America. 

The President called Mr. Floyd’s family. The call was “so fast,” Mr. Floyd’s brother Terrence recalled. “He didn’t give me the opportunity to even speak. It was hard. I was trying to talk to him, but he just kept, like, pushing me off, like ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about.’”

Once the call was finished, so was any expression of concern about the racism that enabled Mr. Floyd’s murder. When demonstrations turned violent, Trump quoted an infamous Miami police chief from the 60s: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” When people across party lines expressed outrage, Trump claimed he did not mean police should shoot people committing property crime. Yet when protestors showed up at the White House, he threatened to unleash vicious dogs and ominous weapons, later adding that the power of the federal military should be used. 

On a conference call with Governors, Trump was as clear as he could be when he said, “You have to arrest people, you have to try people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.” He added, “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.” His solution to the protests is the response that has always been embraced in America — suppress them aggressively. Send some people to prison. Harass some activists. Maybe next time, they will take the thoughts and prayers and shut up.

These demonstrations are about more than murder by police officers. Earlier this year, Trump claimed that there was a need to study the impact of COVID-19 on Black America. This is necessary only if, like the President, you have turned a blind eye to history and fact. COVID-19 stripped away any cover we had to avoid seeing the true impact of inadequate health care, under-funded education, gentrification, and economic disparities — conditions in communities of color, and in Black communities in particular, that are the direct result of centuries of intentionally created structural racism.

These are the things behind the unrest in America. However, the racism and hatred behind the murder of George Floyd has faded from our President’s focus because he has identified something more important than a racial terror lynching by police. He has identified the real enemy.

Who is it? Well, depending on the circumstances, for Trump it is Mexicans, Muslims or the Chinese. This time, the real enemy is not the racism in America that let police officers choke the life out of a man in front of numerous witnesses with unfettered confidence. It is the demonstrators — Trump calls them “thugs” — many of whom are Black Americans.

So instead of actions to eliminate the racism that pressed the knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck, we get threats about what is coming for these “thugs.” Unless cities respond with an overwhelming law enforcement presence, he will “deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” If you wonder what he meant by domination, you have your answer.

How many times can a country offer thoughts and prayers in the face of senseless death with no progress or solutions before it becomes clear that the thoughts and prayers were meaningless? George Floyd must remind you of Eric Garner. Breonna Taylor and Terence Crutcher should be alive today. Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery are dead because their blackness alone marked them as criminal. If thoughts and prayers made a difference, why are we living in this moment of crisis 99 years after the Tulsa Massacre, 52 years after the King assassination, and 29 years after Rodney King was beaten?  

The federal government is pushing for cities and states to make a maximum effort to prevent property damage. The President is willing to commit federal law enforcement resources and even the military to defeat the enemy, protect property, and reinstate the status quo. What would America look like if we ever put the same commitment and resources into the elimination of and reckoning with racism?

Take a good look at Mr. Floyd’s lynching and the centuries of unaddressed racism in America. What’s it going to be this time — more thoughts and prayers, with Trump’s military threat waiting if anyone complains? Or, for the first time in our history, a maximum effort with dedicated local, state, and federal resources to transform America’s history of racism? 

Our President has given you his answer. America is going to have to answer the same question. 

The Response to Protests Against Police Brutality is Not More Brutality 

By Carl Takei, Senior ACLU Staff Attorney & Vera Elderman, ACLU Staff Attorney 

 

Police brutality against protesters and those documenting protests has only deepened the pain and anguish of Black communities. 

 

Around the country, people are bursting back onto the streets to protest police brutality and demand racial justice in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Their message is vital, and it is correct: Police violence is one of the leading causes of death for Black men in America, and police officers who kill rarely face any type of accountability. This needs to stop.

Yet in too many cities, the police response has been only more brutality. In New York City, police vehicles drove into protesters and one officer pulled a Black protester’s mask down to directly pepper spray him in the face. Near the White House, police tear gassed peaceful protesters in order to facilitate President Trump’s scheduled photo op. Reporters have also suffered at the hands of police, including one reporter who was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

President Trump has insisted that police should “dominate” and “do retribution” against protesters. That is authoritarian, and the use of punitive measures or crowd control weapons to squelch peaceful protest violates both domestic and international law. In the context of protests, the proper role of law enforcement is to facilitate First Amendment activity by enabling peaceful protest. Officers cannot ban or interrupt speech because of the potential for disturbance or disorder. Where specific acts of illegality arise, officers can deal with those directly — not by breaking up a protest or painting all protesters with a broad brush.

Indeed, in cities like Newark, New Jersey where law enforcement officials consciously focused on de-escalation over last weekend, protesters were able to speak out in relative peace. Elsewhere, the extreme and indiscriminate brutality of officers against protesters, those documenting protests, and those doing both has only deepened the pain and anguish of Black communities, and serves as a pointed illustration of exactly how little Black lives matter to these police departments.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, police failures to facilitate peaceful protest also increase health risks for police, protesters, bystanders, and the community at large. Specific police tactics like kittling — essentially trapping protesters and bystanders into a limited, often crowded area with only one point of exit controlled by officers — and mass arrests have been the subjects of past ACLU lawsuits. Today, they are even more troubling because they heighten the risk of infection by forcing large numbers of people closer together.

Similarly, arresting protesters and holding them overnight is only likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, pushing more people into jails that have become hotbeds of infection. And public health experts have cautioned that the use of particular police weapons, including tear gas and pepper spray, can heighten COVID-19 risks by causing people to cough and gasp for air.

Now more than ever, law enforcement should be respecting the First Amendment rights of people who are protesting in the streets — not attempting to silence them with punitive measures, crowd control weapons, and blatant brutality. Racial justice and public health—not to mention the voice of the people — demand it. 

 

Police are Attacking Journalists at Protests. We’re Suing. 

Brian Hauss , ACLU Staff Attorney & Teresa Nelson 

 

We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press. 

 

As people take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many other Black people who have been killed by police in recent years, journalists have joined them to bear witness. While covering these protests in cities throughout the country, journalists have become conspicuous targets for arrest, intimidation, and assault by police officers, even though (or perhaps because) they are clearly identifiable as members of the press.

These apparently deliberate attacks on journalists violate the First Amendment freedom of the press, and they will not go unanswered. The ACLU of Minnesota is filing a class-action lawsuit against Minnesota’s state and local law enforcement officials to ensure that police officers who target journalists are held fully accountable for their unlawful actions.

We also plan to protect another of our essential First Amendment rights: the right to protest. We’re pursuing legal actions to stop police brutality against protesters and organizers.

Throughout the George Floyd protests, there have been numerous, well-documented instances of deliberate abuse against journalists by law enforcement officers. A Minnesota State Patrol officer arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew during a live broadcast, despite the journalists repeatedly having offered to comply with police and asking where they could move. Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole were chased by Minnesota State Patrol officers, tear-gassed, and shot at with rubber bullets, even though both were wearing their press credentials and they identified themselves as journalists. And police officers pepper-sprayed a group of visibly credentialed journalists, including KTSP reporter Ryan Raiche and his producer, as they were pinned against a wall.

And these are examples from Minnesota alone. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom the Press and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker have identified numerous other instances of official abuse against journalists in cities across the country 

 

These attacks violate the press’s clearly established First Amendment right to report on public protests and police activities. An open society depends on a free press to keep the public informed and to bear witness to government actions. When law enforcement officers target members of the press with impunity, they strike at the root of our democracy. Law enforcement officers who perpetrate these abuses must be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law.

Unfortunately, as in so many other cases, senior law enforcement officials have refused to take action in response to flagrant abuse. They have failed to establish necessary guidelines, trainings, and disciplinary protocols to ensure that attacks on journalists are treated with zero tolerance. Instead, they have made excuses and ducked responsibility, such as when the Minnesota State Patrol claimed that they released Mr. Jimenez and his crew “once they were confirmed to be members of the media” – even though that fact was obvious before the arrests took place.

If the government refuses to hold its officers accountable for their unlawful actions, we will. This lawsuit will be the first of several we intend to file in states across the country. We will not rest until the press is once again free to report the news without fear or favor. 

Yesterday, we were approached by the ACLU with three commentaries, that taken together, serve as somewhat of an essay on the current moment. 

The opinions expressed in these pieces do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Corvallis Advocate, or its staff. However, we believe the ACLU codifies viewpoints currently moving through the community conscience in a particularly succinct and articulate manner. Additionally, we are aware the ACLU has come out in favor of police divestment, which we see as a materially separate matter from the content of these commentaries, and a matter on which views may vary, even among our own staff.   

The Time for Thoughts and Prayers is Over 

By Jeffrey Robinson  

Deputy Legal Director and Director of the Trone Center for Justice and Equality  

Minneapolis police conducted a racial terror lynching of George Floyd in broad daylight. President Trump’s reaction tells you all you need to know about his commitment to seriously address racism in America. 

A police officer with his hand casually in his pocket knelt on George Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes while several colleagues watched or knelt on other parts of Mr. Floyd’s body. The officers knew people were filming, but they were confident no one would stop them. They were right, and they killed Mr. Floyd without interference from anyone, apart from the cries of horrified bystanders. After all, they had badges and guns. On that day, Minneapolis police conducted a racial terror lynching of George Floyd in broad daylight that was filmed by onlookers and then sent across America.  President Trump’s reaction tells you all you need to know about his commitment to seriously address racism in America. 

The President called Mr. Floyd’s family. The call was “so fast,” Mr. Floyd’s brother Terrence recalled. “He didn’t give me the opportunity to even speak. It was hard. I was trying to talk to him, but he just kept, like, pushing me off, like ‘I don’t want to hear what you’re talking about.’”

Once the call was finished, so was any expression of concern about the racism that enabled Mr. Floyd’s murder. When demonstrations turned violent, Trump quoted an infamous Miami police chief from the 60s: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” When people across party lines expressed outrage, Trump claimed he did not mean police should shoot people committing property crime. Yet when protestors showed up at the White House, he threatened to unleash vicious dogs and ominous weapons, later adding that the power of the federal military should be used. 

On a conference call with Governors, Trump was as clear as he could be when he said, “You have to arrest people, you have to try people, you have to put them in jail for 10 years and you’ll never see this stuff again.” He added, “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.” His solution to the protests is the response that has always been embraced in America — suppress them aggressively. Send some people to prison. Harass some activists. Maybe next time, they will take the thoughts and prayers and shut up.

These demonstrations are about more than murder by police officers. Earlier this year, Trump claimed that there was a need to study the impact of COVID-19 on Black America. This is necessary only if, like the President, you have turned a blind eye to history and fact. COVID-19 stripped away any cover we had to avoid seeing the true impact of inadequate health care, under-funded education, gentrification, and economic disparities — conditions in communities of color, and in Black communities in particular, that are the direct result of centuries of intentionally created structural racism.

These are the things behind the unrest in America. However, the racism and hatred behind the murder of George Floyd has faded from our President’s focus because he has identified something more important than a racial terror lynching by police. He has identified the real enemy.

Who is it? Well, depending on the circumstances, for Trump it is Mexicans, Muslims or the Chinese. This time, the real enemy is not the racism in America that let police officers choke the life out of a man in front of numerous witnesses with unfettered confidence. It is the demonstrators — Trump calls them “thugs” — many of whom are Black Americans.

So instead of actions to eliminate the racism that pressed the knee into Mr. Floyd’s neck, we get threats about what is coming for these “thugs.” Unless cities respond with an overwhelming law enforcement presence, he will “deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” If you wonder what he meant by domination, you have your answer.

How many times can a country offer thoughts and prayers in the face of senseless death with no progress or solutions before it becomes clear that the thoughts and prayers were meaningless? George Floyd must remind you of Eric Garner. Breonna Taylor and Terence Crutcher should be alive today. Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery are dead because their blackness alone marked them as criminal. If thoughts and prayers made a difference, why are we living in this moment of crisis 99 years after the Tulsa Massacre, 52 years after the King assassination, and 29 years after Rodney King was beaten?  

The federal government is pushing for cities and states to make a maximum effort to prevent property damage. The President is willing to commit federal law enforcement resources and even the military to defeat the enemy, protect property, and reinstate the status quo. What would America look like if we ever put the same commitment and resources into the elimination of and reckoning with racism?

Take a good look at Mr. Floyd’s lynching and the centuries of unaddressed racism in America. What’s it going to be this time — more thoughts and prayers, with Trump’s military threat waiting if anyone complains? Or, for the first time in our history, a maximum effort with dedicated local, state, and federal resources to transform America’s history of racism? 

Our President has given you his answer. America is going to have to answer the same question. 

The Response to Protests Against Police Brutality is Not More Brutality 

By Carl Takei, Senior ACLU Staff Attorney & Vera Elderman, ACLU Staff Attorney  

Police brutality against protesters and those documenting protests has only deepened the pain and anguish of Black communities. 

Around the country, people are bursting back onto the streets to protest police brutality and demand racial justice in the wake of the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Their message is vital, and it is correct: Police violence is one of the leading causes of death for Black men in America, and police officers who kill rarely face any type of accountability. This needs to stop.

Yet in too many cities, the police response has been only more brutality. In New York City, police vehicles drove into protesters and one officer pulled a Black protester’s mask down to directly pepper spray him in the face. Near the White House, police tear gassed peaceful protesters in order to facilitate President Trump’s scheduled photo op. Reporters have also suffered at the hands of police, including one reporter who was shot in the eye with a rubber bullet.

President Trump has insisted that police should “dominate” and “do retribution” against protesters. That is authoritarian, and the use of punitive measures or crowd control weapons to squelch peaceful protest violates both domestic and international law. In the context of protests, the proper role of law enforcement is to facilitate First Amendment activity by enabling peaceful protest. Officers cannot ban or interrupt speech because of the potential for disturbance or disorder. Where specific acts of illegality arise, officers can deal with those directly — not by breaking up a protest or painting all protesters with a broad brush.

Indeed, in cities like Newark, New Jersey where law enforcement officials consciously focused on de-escalation over last weekend, protesters were able to speak out in relative peace. Elsewhere, the extreme and indiscriminate brutality of officers against protesters, those documenting protests, and those doing both has only deepened the pain and anguish of Black communities, and serves as a pointed illustration of exactly how little Black lives matter to these police departments.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, police failures to facilitate peaceful protest also increase health risks for police, protesters, bystanders, and the community at large. Specific police tactics like kittling — essentially trapping protesters and bystanders into a limited, often crowded area with only one point of exit controlled by officers — and mass arrests have been the subjects of past ACLU lawsuits. Today, they are even more troubling because they heighten the risk of infection by forcing large numbers of people closer together.

Similarly, arresting protesters and holding them overnight is only likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, pushing more people into jails that have become hotbeds of infection. And public health experts have cautioned that the use of particular police weapons, including tear gas and pepper spray, can heighten COVID-19 risks by causing people to cough and gasp for air.

Now more than ever, law enforcement should be respecting the First Amendment rights of people who are protesting in the streets — not attempting to silence them with punitive measures, crowd control weapons, and blatant brutality. Racial justice and public health—not to mention the voice of the people — demand it. 

 

Police are Attacking Journalists at Protests. We’re Suing. 

Brian Hauss , ACLU Staff Attorney & Teresa Nelson 

 

We are facing a full-scale assault on the First Amendment freedom of the press. 

 

As people take to the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and too many other Black people who have been killed by police in recent years, journalists have joined them to bear witness. While covering these protests in cities throughout the country, journalists have become conspicuous targets for arrest, intimidation, and assault by police officers, even though (or perhaps because) they are clearly identifiable as members of the press.

These apparently deliberate attacks on journalists violate the First Amendment freedom of the press, and they will not go unanswered. The ACLU of Minnesota is filing a class-action lawsuit against Minnesota’s state and local law enforcement officials to ensure that police officers who target journalists are held fully accountable for their unlawful actions.

We also plan to protect another of our essential First Amendment rights: the right to protest. We’re pursuing legal actions to stop police brutality against protesters and organizers.

Throughout the George Floyd protests, there have been numerous, well-documented instances of deliberate abuse against journalists by law enforcement officers. A Minnesota State Patrol officer arrested CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his crew during a live broadcast, despite the journalists repeatedly having offered to comply with police and asking where they could move. Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske and photographer Carolyn Cole were chased by Minnesota State Patrol officers, tear-gassed, and shot at with rubber bullets, even though both were wearing their press credentials and they identified themselves as journalists. And police officers pepper-sprayed a group of visibly credentialed journalists, including KTSP reporter Ryan Raiche and his producer, as they were pinned against a wall.

And these are examples from Minnesota alone. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom the Press and the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker have identified numerous other instances of official abuse against journalists in cities across the country 

 

These attacks violate the press’s clearly established First Amendment right to report on public protests and police activities. An open society depends on a free press to keep the public informed and to bear witness to government actions. When law enforcement officers target members of the press with impunity, they strike at the root of our democracy. Law enforcement officers who perpetrate these abuses must be held accountable for their actions to the fullest extent of the law.

Unfortunately, as in so many other cases, senior law enforcement officials have refused to take action in response to flagrant abuse. They have failed to establish necessary guidelines, trainings, and disciplinary protocols to ensure that attacks on journalists are treated with zero tolerance. Instead, they have made excuses and ducked responsibility, such as when the Minnesota State Patrol claimed that they released Mr. Jimenez and his crew “once they were confirmed to be members of the media” – even though that fact was obvious before the arrests took place.

If the government refuses to hold its officers accountable for their unlawful actions, we will. This lawsuit will be the first of several we intend to file in states across the country. We will not rest until the press is once again free to report the news without fear or favor.