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Activists, Journalists, and Clergy Brief Subcommittee on First Amendment Violations by Police at Recent Protests

June 30, 2020
Press Release

(WASHINGTON, D.C.)—On Monday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a briefing on violations of First Amendment rights of protesters and journalists by federal and local law enforcement.  

“The movement against police violence has itself led to serious violations of the First Amendment at the hands of government authorities,” Chairman Raskin stated.  “And here I refer not just to episodes involving individual police officers but to officials at all levels, from local police chiefs all the way up to the Attorney General and President of the United States.”

“Official violence against First Amendment protests threatens the channels of political and social change in America.  It turns the police power of the government against the people themselves,” said Chairman Raskin.  “Unjustified, unnecessary, and disproportionate government violence against the people is an attack on democracy itself.”

This sentiment was echoed by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, the Dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, historian and expert in constitutional law.  She said, “The commitments enshrined in the First Amendment reflect the values of a country born of protest against tyrannical rulers and fashioned into a ‘more perfect union’ through the struggles of generations of Americans, particularly those originally excluded from full American citizenship—African Americans, women, and other marginalized communities.”

The other briefers—protesters, journalists, and clergy whose First Amendment rights have been violated at these protests—recounted their experiences of police violence and arrest:

  • Linda Tirado, a freelance journalist who lost sight in her left eye after being shot by rubber bullet while taking photos at protests in Minneapolis, said “I am angry, of course.  And I am grieving.  And I am worried that the United States is becoming a more dangerous place to be a journalist.”
  • Another journalist, Gustavo Martínez-Contreras, was arrested by police while live-streaming the arrest of two young protesters.  He explained:  “Until June 1, when I was arrested while covering a protest in Asbury Park, New Jersey, I had never been arrested or detained for reporting on a political protest.  I speak up today because the silencing of journalists by law enforcement is a fundamental threat to American democracy.  A press badge should not be a bullseye."
  • Police shot activist LaToya Ratlieff in the head with a rubber bullet as she tried to leave a peaceful protest.  She explained, “There was a young woman kneeling on the ground and then an officer shoved her.  And that was the pivotal moment that took it from the peaceful day, that took it from that community rally of people coming together simply to exercise their First Amendment right and simply to be a part of change.”
  • Reverend Gini Gerbasi was at Lafayette Square when law enforcement deployed tear gas and threw flash-bangs to clear the way for the President.  “We were praying with people, giving them water and food and then—after they were attacked by the police—first aid care.  To hold up those same Scriptures after using tear gas and rubber bullets and flash grenades and police in riot gear was horrifying.  I say this not to make a political point, but to raise an objective truth—the scene I witnessed would have been equally devastating regardless of who was occupying the White House.”

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