University journalism educators decry arrests and violence directed at journalists

Editor’s note: Eric Freedman, the director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism,  is among 23 Knight chairs nationwide who signed this open letter regarding arrests and violence directed at journalists during protests demanding racial justice:

In recent weeks, 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.

CONTACT: John Affleck,

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SIGNATORIES (listed alphabetically by name):

Penelope Muse Abernathy
Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics
Hussman School of Journalism and Media
University of North Carolina

Bill Adair
Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy
Duke University

John Affleck
Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society
Penn State University

Rosental Alves
Knight Chair in International Journalism
University of Texas at Austin

Alberto Cairo
Knight Chair in Visual Journalism
University of Miami

Sarah Cohen
Knight Chair in Data Journalism
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism
Arizona State University

Aly Colόn
Knight Chair of Media Ethics
Washington and Lee University

Eric Freedman
Knight Chair in Environmental Journalism
Michigan State University

Mark Goodman
Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism
Kent State University

Lindsay Grace
Knight Chair in Interactive Media
University of Miami School of Communication

Brant Houston
Knight Chair, Investigative and Enterprise Reporting,
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Francine Huff
Knight Chair for Student Achievement
School of Journalism & Graphic Communication
Florida A&M University

Kathy Kiely
Lee Hills Chair in Free Press Studies
Missouri School of Journalism

Damon Kiesow
Knight Chair in Digital Editing and Production
Missouri School of Journalism

Mindy McAdams
Knight Chair in Journalism Technologies and a Democratic Society​
University of Florida

Michael Pollan
Knight Chair in Science and Technology Reporting
UC Berkeley School of Journalism

Dana Priest
Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism
Philip Merrill College of Journalism
University of Maryland

Sabriya Rice
Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism
University of Georgia

Giannina Segnini
Knight Chair in Data Journalism
Director of the Data Journalism Degree
Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University

Jodi Upton
Knight Chair, Data and Explanatory Journalism
Syracuse University

Diane Winston
Knight Chair in Media and Religion
USC Annenberg

Stephen Wolgast
Knight Chair in Audience & Community Engagement for News
University of Kansas

Owen R. Youngman
Knight Chair in Digital Media Strategy
Northwestern University Medill School

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