February 1, 2017
Jackboots, redux: felony rioting charges dropped against four of six journalists, not good enough
by Simon Reichley
Last week we wrote about the outrageous felony rioting charges levied against a group of journalists and reporters who were illegally apprehended during the inauguration day protests in Washington DC.
Since then, the US attorney’s office for the District of Columbia has dropped charges against four of the six journalists in question. Charges against Evan Engel of Vocativ were dropped on Friday, and charges against Matthew Hopard, John Keller, and Alexander Rubinstein (all freelance) were dropped on Monday. This is good news, but does not change the fact that charges against Shay Horse and Aaron Cantu remain in place. At question is the attorney’s office’s willingness to acknowledge Horse and Cantu as journalists. Engel, whose charges were dropped first, was fortunate to have the backing of his employer, but the rest are freelancers, and though Rubinstein is a regular contributor to RT, none enjoys the direct support of a news organization.
While this may put Horse and Cantu at something of a strategic disadvantage, it shouldn’t make any material difference in their case. According to Katy Glenn Bass, a director at PEN America, freelance journalists “enjoy the same right to gather information in a public location that all citizens do.” Cantu is a regular contributor to Truthout, and Horse is a working photojournalist. They have a constitutional right to do their job and that should be the end of it.
Unfortunately, Bill Miller, a spokesperson for the attorney’s office, gave several statements regarding the dropped charges, but made no comment regarding the offices decision to continue prosecuting Horse and Cantu, except to say that they were still reviewing evidence relevant to the case.
While Miller did not discuss or reveal any supposed evidence (and if the prosecution has any such evidence, they should release it immediately), it’s not hard to wager a guess on what’s guiding their decision. Horse self-identifies as an “Independent Photojournalist, Native American (of the Chickasaw and Kiowa tribes), Anarchist, Lover of irreverent shenanigans, Former token injun of
#OWS.” Truthout, to which Cantu regularly contributes, was included in the widely discredited “fake news” blacklist reported on by the Washington Post several weeks ago. It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that that the prosecution is relying on a politically biased conception of what kinds of reporting fall withing the boundaries of “legitimate” news. If true—and again, the attoreney’s office can dismiss any suspicion of bad faith by sharing whatever evidence they have—this is suppression of political dissent. This is straight up fascism.
All of this becomes especially disturbing when conisdered in the context of Donald Trump’s war on the press, specifically his repeated attempts to delegitimize major outlets such as CNN and the New York Times. If the DC attorney’s office is willing and able to deny or refute the standing of working journalists based on political heterodoxy or a perceived lack of legitimacy, and if Trump’s vile disregard for the free press is not sharply rebuked, we could all be in very serious trouble.
Simon Reichley is assistant to the publishers and office manager at Melville House.