The arrest of CNN journalists is an affront to the First Amendment

By Rachel Cohen, Pascack Valley High School

As a journalist, I stand with Omar Jimenez. 

Jimenez, a CNN correspondent, was arrested by state police on live television early Friday morning at a site of protests in Minneapolis, despite identifying himself to police officers and saying he would be happy to move. His crew, producer Bill Kirkos and photojournalist Leonel Mendez, were also taken into custody shortly after.

When journalists are put in handcuffs for reporting, the truth is also locked up — which is why other networks, including Fox News, MSNBC, and press freedom advocacy groups have backed CNN

Written in a guide to covering protests by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, journalists can be in a place where the public is allowed and not disrupt or interfere with law enforcement. With the incident being live on air, viewers can clearly see Jimenez and his production team following protocol and fully cooperating with police, yet they were still detained.

Reporters have the constitutional right to cover stories, especially in difficult moments like these, as Jimenez was covering protests in the wake of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, who was killed Monday after a white police officer kneeled on his neck while Floyd continued to say “I can’t breathe.”

In a time like this, it is necessary for the press to inform the public.

This arrest is only an example of how the press is attacked for solely being present, even with viewers having the right to know. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented that 40 journalists have been arrested since 2017 while covering protests.

Not only is this an abridgement on the First Amendment, but while Jimenez, who is black and Latino, was arrested, his white colleague, Josh Campbell, who was working nearby, was not. In an interview, Campell said he believed he had differential treatment because of his race. 

This only fuels the fire of protests against police brutality with the Floyd incident and the long history of discriminatory acts against African Americans.

Currently, there is still no explanation as to why Jimenez and his crew were taken into custody, and the arrest has become a topic of debate on social media platforms such as Twitter. 

One thing does remain clear: no reporter should be detained for doing their job — journalism is crucial in the country now more than ever. 

We should be able to report without fear.

This story was originally published on The Smoke Signal on May 29, 2020.