In situations like these, we are reminded that we are reporters second and Black first
This week, cities across the country are protesting. Last night, the White House locked its doors as protestors stormed Pennsylvania Avenue. In Atlanta, a CNN center was damaged during protests.
These demonstrations were sparked by George Floyd’s murder, which happened in Minnesota on Memorial Day. In a powerful stand against police genocides across America, protesters took to the streets last Thursday and looted major businesses. While doing a live shot showing the Minnesota protests, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested yesterday.
Many of us watched in disgust as Jimenez attempted to keep his composure in a trying situation. “Just put us where you want us,” he told Minnesota state patrol officers who apparently asked his reporting team to move back (their directions are inaudible behind the masks). Before this, he notified them, “We are live on the air at the moment. This is the four of us. We are one team.”
That he has to announce this is a chilling reminder of the reality Black people live in, even when we are reporters. Him stating his business does not, and will not, shelter him, since our Blackness is seen as a threat in racist eyes. It is unnerving to think of how easily this interaction could have gone left had there not been cameras.
Yesterday afternoon, Charles Whitaker, the Dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, condemned these actions by the state patrol.
“I watched in horror this morning as our alumnus and friend, CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez (BSJ15), was handcuffed and carted away by the Minnesota State Patrol for the sin of doing journalism,” Whitaker opened with.
He went on to write a powerful analysis of the situation. “I could not help but wonder whether his brown skin marked him for this indignity, and I thought of my own adult sons and the threat they face in a society that still too often demonizes African-American men,” Whitaker stated.
That I experienced something similar to Jimenez is unsettling. While a former Medill student, I covered a high-profile police brutality case where lawyers called police brutality victim Laquan McDonald "a monster."
Last year, I covered the murder trial for Jason Van Dyke, who killed McDonald. As I entered through the press gate, I was asked to show ID, and I pulled out the press badge that had been issued to me by the court.
Yet, a Cook County sheriff questioned this badge, asking who had given it to me. I wanted to scream, “YOU DID!”
Despite the clear lack of communication between departments, I was finally admitted into the courtroom once their media team verified that it was, in fact, a press badge.
Like Jimenez, I overcame a scary experience and was still able to do my job. Unlike Jimenez, I was not arrested, so I cannot understand what that must have felt like as a journalist and as a Black journalist.
However, I do understand the fear and frustration he likely felt in trying to do his job. In situations like these, we are reminded that we are reporters second and Black first. So, what are we to do when things like this happen to us? I say we must keep reporting.
The way to right wrongs
As I unpack what just happened, I think about one of the most feared and revered Black journalists: Ida B. Wells, who made enemies with people who wanted to keep lynchings private.
“A mob destroyed Wells' newspaper while Wells was out of town. Forced to remain in the North, Wells launched a national crusade against lynching that would capture the attention of the nation and Europe,” thirteen.org tells us. When covering modern lynchings, we must revisit this history.
As Wells eloquently put it, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.” ~ℝ
Rwebel Mag publishes stories across the journalistic spectrum that give a thoughtful glance at culture and difference.