NEW YORK—As protests have erupted in cities across the country in response to George Floyd’s killing by police and broader outrage over police brutality, the nation has witnessed a shocking number of incidents of law enforcement using excessive force against peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights, and an alarming number of arrests and attacks on journalists reporting on the unrest. The Knight Institute is issuing an urgent call to all public officials at the local, state, and national levels to take immediate, affirmative steps to protect freedom of expression and the press. 

The following statement can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Executive Director at the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University.

“The country has watched in horror as protests over police killings of black men and women have been met with yet more police brutality and with blatant violations of the right of the press to cover the protests and to document the violence. Rather than address the pain and anger at the heart of these demonstrations, the president spent the last week leading his own assault on First Amendment freedoms—threatening to shut down social media, repeating a racially charged threat of violence leveled against previous protest movements, and accusing the media of fomenting unrest.

“History will judge the president harshly for his reaction, but it will also judge every elected and law enforcement official around the country for the actions they take—or refuse to take—at this critical moment to defend the press and Americans’ bedrock right to protest. The Knight Institute calls on all elected and law enforcement officials to support and promote the public’s right peaceably to assemble, and to guarantee reporters the access and freedom necessary to cover the protests.”  

For a catalogue of recent incidents of attacks on the press go to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker:

For more information, contact: Lorraine Kenny, Communications Director, Knight First Amendment Institute, [email protected]