ACLU calls on DOJ to put in place permanent protections for journalists covering protests

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) calls on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to put in place permanent protections for journalists and legal observers during protests, including preventing federal agents from arresting or using the physical force against these people.

In a letter sent to the Attorney General on Friday Merrick garlandMerrick GarlandDOJ launches investigation into Phoenix Police Department Kansas Republican calls for investigation of ESPN role in Texas and Oklahoma switches to SEC Work to protect journalists is not done MORE and shared exclusively with The Hill, the ACLU, as well as the National Association of Black Journalists and the NewsGuild-CWA union, urged the DOJ to adopt protections for journalists and legal observers during protests under the guidelines. law enforcement department for the First Amendment Protected Events.

The letter comes after a federal appeals court in October upheld a preliminary injunction allowed by the United States District Court for the District of Oregon prevent federal agents from arresting, threatening or using physical force against “anyone whom they know or should reasonably know to be a journalist or legal observer”, unless there is a probable reason to suggest that the person may have committed a crime.

The injunction also said journalists and legal observers are not required to disperse when law enforcement orders protesters to do so, and federal officials cannot order any journalists or legal observers to do so. stop recording or photographing a demonstration.

The court order, which stems from the use of force and dispersal tactics used against journalists during racial justice protests in Portland last summer, also requires federal officers to wear identification markers so that ‘they can be clearly recognized by journalists and other observers of the demonstrations.

However, the ACLU in its Friday letter said the DOJ was “asking the court to lift the preliminary injunction implementing them, without making any significant changes to its guidelines or procedures for handling protests. “.

The ACLU praised the DOJ for taking steps to reverse the policies of tracing journalists ‘phones and email data under the Trump administration, as well as prosecutors’ search for suspected Capitol rioters. assaulting journalists on January 6.

However, the civil rights organization argued that “the DOJ simultaneously and paradoxically takes the mantle of Trump to fight press freedom, free speech and government transparency in the courts, and defends the ability of the police to adopt the same behavior as in January. 6th rioters, continuing to defend the supposed authority of the federal government to violently disperse journalists and legal observers during the demonstrations.

“How quickly the government is asking us to forget about the large-scale attack on racial justice and free speech launched by police and federal law enforcement officials in cities across the country -” from Portland to Kenosha to Washington, DC – last year, ”the ACLU added. “We have not forgotten and we cannot brush aside these violations of our constitutional rights.”

Kate Ruane, ACLU’s senior legislative adviser focused on protecting free speech, said in an interview with The Hill that Americans “can’t just take the Justice Department’s word for it. will abuse journalists, legal observers and protesters more, simply because the administration has changed. “

“We have not seen the permanent policy changes necessary to prevent this from happening in the future,” she added, arguing that the permanent adoption of the provisions of the preliminary injunction under the DOJ’s existing law enforcement guidelines are “just a request.”

The Hill has contacted the DOJ for comment.

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