ASJA's Response to Black Lives Matter and Ongoing Protests

To Our Members, Our Colleagues, Our Leaders,

Two weeks after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, demonstrations protesting police brutality continue in cities across the country. Many of the demonstrations are peaceful. In Lexington, Kentucky, police officers joined demonstrators chanting “black lives matter.” Other demonstrations have been marked by riots, looting, and hundreds of unprovoked arrests and physical attacks on journalists and demonstrators by the police using tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.

The events of the last 14 days demand a response. But how can you respond to outrage when all responses are inadequate?

The American Society of Journalists and Authors condemns the attacks on journalists by those police officers who are violating their sworn duty to uphold the law. We are deeply saddened as we watch the escalating harassment of our colleagues who are under fire in cities across the country, targeted simply for doing their jobs. We are stunned that the First Amendment promise of free speech and a free press have taken on the hollow ring of the “thoughts and prayers” offered by many of our nation’s leaders in the wake of most any tragedy.

As outraged as we are by these attacks on journalists, however, we must never forget that these protests, demonstrations, and exercises in police-sanctioned violence are not occurring in a vacuum. They are the inevitable clash of two radically divergent cultural phenomena: a national – now international – outrage over the tragic death of George Floyd and other people of color and the unrelenting demands for the use of force against demonstrators by President Donald Trump.

The administration in Washington must condemn, rather than condone and encourage, the violence.

We do not, by any means, suggest that all police officers are bad actors. We believe that the majority are not. The problem is not that simple as shallow two-dimensional characterizations, whether of police officers or protesters. We believe that most officers are trying to do their jobs as they were trained to do them, often while facing untenable situations. But the nation has arrived at a critical moment when the fundamentals of police training must be re-evaluated, and necessary reforms implemented.

Incidents of police abuse of black Americans have been documented with alarming frequency, especially in the age of social media, but the problems predate Facebook and Twitter. Where systemic racism in our nation’s police forces exists, it must be rooted out. Today’s outrage, and tomorrow’s, over the death of yet another black man at the hands of the police presents a moment when genuine change is possible. Sadly, we recognize how difficult it will be to effect a fundamental change. But without change, the outrage may consume us all.

We support Black Lives Matter and the goal of eliminating racial prejudice and its attendant violence. This will not happen overnight, but there are things that we can do now.

ASJA is not as diverse as it should be, nor as diverse as we want it to be. ASJA adopted a comprehensive Code of Conduct two years ago to address all forms of harassment., but we can do more. We commit to build a truly diverse organization, ensuring that Board leadership, our membership, our conferences and other events, are accessible, welcoming, and safe for all.

We will work to provide the educational resources needed to train journalists for reporting on the issues that expose-and in the process help to heal-the disconnects that plague our society.

And perhaps most important in times like these, we will let our colleagues know that they are not alone in their pursuit of fair and accurate reporting of the news.

Together we can lift those voices too often unheard.

Milt Toby, President, and the Board of Directors of
the American Society of Journalists and Authors