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Over the weekend, Washington D.C. saw its largest protests of the past 12 days, since the murder of Geroge Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers. The social justice protests have occurred across hundreds of U.S. cities (even including Salida, Westcliffe, and Vail) and around the world. They show no signs of dissipating.

Working journalists covering the protests reported being “roughed up, arrested and shot at with projectiles” while covering demonstrations across the country.

“I’ve really never seen anything like this,” said veteran journalist Ellen Shearer, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and a co-director of its National Security Journalism Initiative. “The president has called the news media ‘the enemy of the people.’ I think all of that has taken a toll.”

Police tear-gassed and shot pepper balls at protesters in front of Civic Center Station; huge crowd ran, eyes and throat burning. Image by Beth Rankin@byBethRankin, who said that “protesters were not throwing anything or advancing on cops.”

Police department excessive force is not just real, it is on full display as real-time examples of what Americans are protesting. Increasingly, peaceful protestors, news media, and first responders have been directly targeted by police for retaliation.

The role of credentialed journalists as observers at protest marches is protected by the United States Constitution. Analysis by Guardian and Bellingcat finds more than 148 arrests or attacks on media covering George Floyd protests in multiple cities across the U.S. Just a few examples:

  • Barbara Davidson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, was covering a protest near the Grove shopping mall in Los Angeles on Saturday when a police officer ordered her to move. She showed him her press credentials, she said in an interview. The officer said he did not care and again told her to leave the area. After saying, “Sir, I am a journalist covering this,” she turned away and the officer shoved her in the back, causing her to trip and hit her head against a fire hydrant. She said she wasn’t hurt, because she was wearing a helmet she had bought while getting skateboarding equipment for a nephew.
  • In Minneapolis an entire CNN media crew of reporters and camera crew were targeted and arrested on live television by Minnesota State Patrol officers while covering the protests.
  • In Denver, the Colorado Press Association, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and the Colorado Freedom of information Coalition have filed a protest over seven specific documented instances where media were harassed, tear-gassed or sprayed with pellets during the protests in Denver.

While it might be common in autocratic countries for journalists to be swept up in arrests during protests and riots, it is rare in the United States, where newsgathering is protected by the First Amendment.

A week into the protests, President Donald Trump blamed the media in a tweet, “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy. As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS!”

There is no truth to his claim but this begs the question: since when is seeking the truth ‘a sick agenda’?

The United States Constitution, specifically the First Amendment, protects five basic freedoms:

The freedom of speech

The freedom of the press

The freedom to assemble

The freedom of religion

The freedom to petition our government for grievances

The American Civil Liberties Union has called this “a full-scale assault on the freedom of the press”.

Just as disturbing as the attacks on the press is the treatment of first responders who have been attacked – some simply leaving their hospital shifts near midnight — others trying to help protestors injured by police.

  • Twenty minutes after leaving his job at a Brooklyn hospital on Saturday night a week ago, 32-year-old Rayne Valentine, a Marine veteran, was lying in the fetal position on the sidewalk. He’d been beaten and kicked by New York police officers, his hospital ID smeared with his own blood, he told The Daily Beast.
  • Another, vascular cardiologist Dr. Bernard Ashby, based in Miami Beach, Florida who has been treating COVID-19 patients, told The Daily Beast he attended a Miami protest on Saturday—where he was tear-gassed by police. “I’m not sure what exactly transpired,” said Ashby. “Stuff was being thrown both ways, and police from the precinct started dropping teargas and shooting rubber bullets at the crowd. I’ve never been tear gassed before, but I had just wanted to show my solidarity with the protesters.”
  • Maredith Mitchell,  a mom, medic, and volunteer firefighter was shot in the hands as she tried to help a protestor who had been shot in the head with “non-lethal” beanbags. “They knew I was a medic, I was wearing my firefighter shirt and had a big red and white cross on my medical helmet.”

There are those, including other media in this county, who like to say that community media should only report local news; as if our world stops at the city boundary, or county line. But our lives are bigger than that, our minds are capable of thinking about the issues rocking our country and our hearts know that at any moment, just like a wildfire or a hurricane, the situation and the damage spreads.

As our Chaffee County commissioners are quick to point out when discussing our burgeoning tourism business and second-home ownership: we are only a bit over two hours from metro Denver. In fact, the metro area is now considered to extend through Park County.

Two questions present themselves:

1. Just how far away do Chaffee residents think we are from this reality?

2. What exactly do people think the First Amendment means?