By Jose Ivan Cazares
California Governor Gavin Newsom failed to protect people’s First Amendment right when he vetoed SB-629.
He failed to address police officers’ blatantly ignoring journalists’ right to cover public protests and demonstrations under the First Amendment.
SB-629 was intended to further protect journalists from police officers, but lacked language that would truly discourage officers from arresting journalists when they’re deemed an inconvenience or from outright assaulting.
As Newsom pointed out, journalists are already protected under Penal Code 409.5, but the language he mentions in his veto notes is limited to one sentence which says journalists are exempt from a long list of reasons an officer can arrest someone at a protest or closed area.
The bill was approved by the California Senate and Assembly in August following the arrest of several reporters covering demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
On Sept. 13, KPCC reporter Josie Huang was arrested while covering a protest outside a hospital where two Sheriff’s deputies were being treated for gunshot wounds.
This further demonstrated police willingness to ignore journalists’ First Amendment rights.
Huang was recording as a man was being arrested and she was pinned to the ground despite identifying herself as press.
In addition to clearly defining a journalist’s right to report the news, even if it involves police, it is crucial that a new bill be proposed, passed and enforced.
This bill should help hold officers accountable when they abuse their power during protests.
Laying out consequences for officers is necessary whether in the form of fines, unpaid suspension, dismissal or jail time depending on the level of the offense.
Of course reporters also need to train themselves to deal with aggravated police and demonstrators in the current political climate. Reporters do their jobs fully aware of the dangers, and need to use common sense for their own sake and to avoid obstructing officers.
Huang and CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, who was arrested along with his crew in March are two examples of journalists being arrested despite properly identifying themselves to authorities.
They are both seasoned reporters, and their arrests show that it’s not just rookie reporters who are susceptible to harassment by police. They were released and no charges were pressed.
Stopping reporters from reporting on a story is an affront to the First Amendment; an affront that could become the norm if people don’t speak out while the conversation of police reform is taking center stage.