Big Media Need to Fight for the Right to Protest
West Virginia state police arrested Dan Heyman, a veteran reporter with Public News Service, for repeatedly asking Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price whether being a target of domestic violence would be considered a “pre-existing condition,” allowing health insurance to be denied, under the new Republican healthcare bill (FAIR Action Alert, 5/10/17).
The charge: “willful disruption of governmental processes.”
Heyman is free on bond, awaiting trial. His arrest follows the conviction last week of Code Pink activist Desiree Fairooz for “unlawful conduct” because she laughed in a Senate conference room when Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said that then-nominee for Attorney General Jeff Sessions had an “extensive record of treating all Americans equally under the law.” She faces up to a year in jail (Vox, 5/8/17).
It’s not that Big Media haven’t nodded to these cases, but better than adding slogans about democracy dying in darkness and truth mattering more than ever would be vigorous, sustained, principled defense of the right to protest, including while wearing black. Which seems to be what’s holding together the government’s case for felony riot charges against some 214 people arrested en masse on Inauguration Day.
Natasha Lennard reports for Esquire (4/12/17) that even though DC police’s initial mass arrest swept up reporters and legal observers since released, they still maintain that each of the dozens of individuals still charged can be proven to have rioted and incited others to riot. But, Lennard reports, defenders are saying that the state’s evidence amounts to video coverage showing people at the beginning of the march, wearing black, and then at the end of the protest, now deemed a riot—proving they could have left but did not. People who broke no windows and set no fires face up to 10 years in prison and $25,000 in fines. There is civil litigation against the police department, but as frightened clients are encouraged to plead out, that effort is weakened.
Let’s add that Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states are promoting laws to increase severity of charges for nonviolent protest tactics, like blocking highways.
Journalists know the reasons to protest are coming fast and furious; they need to come out much stronger for the right to do so.