The latest killings of African-Americans by law enforcement have not only anguished our country but locked its attention on police brutality directed at communities of color. As Americans have tried to come to terms with our history of racism, we condemn its presence in our profession and call for media outlets to diversify their staffs from the top down.
We also note that journalists, including those of color, have been victims of police misconduct in recent days, and we are disturbed at the large number of attacks perpetrated on all those attempting to uphold a free press in the service of democracy.
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, between May 26 and June 10, there were 86 physical attacks on journalists in the United States, 54 by police. More than 50 journalists were arrested, and there were scores of incidents in which reporters said they were hit with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. The numbers are so high that it defies logic to consider them isolated moments. They occurred in an environment that either is indifferent to, or condones, illegal intimidation and violence against the press.
As the Committee to Protect Journalists has noted, the journalists at these protests represent the interests of the same public that government also serves. Additionally, the press acts as a check both on government and on rogue behavior among private citizens, a check that is badly needed at this time and helps all people. We are especially aware of the challenges faced by journalists of color. Their jobs ask them to remain dispassionate in the face of attacks that are all-too personal to themselves and their loved ones.
We are journalism professors funded through the Knight Foundation who teach and mentor at public and private universities across the United States. We want a nation where the next generation of journalists, the students we are now training, can do their jobs in a culture of respect for the First Amendment. We call on governors, mayors, state lawmakers, city councils, prosecutors, police chiefs and police union officials, to hold the perpetrators of all attacks against journalists to account, and to ensure such attacks stop immediately.
We also ask colleagues at journalism programs across America to join us in these demands, and in encouraging professional media outlets, and the students we teach, to more thoroughly investigate the structural racism that permeates our society.
Stephen Wolgast (as one of 23 Knight Chairs in Journalism), Topeka