Journalists must be allowed self-protection

While covering last year’s hockey riots, reporters and photojournalists got caught between police and rioters. The release of tear gas sent journalists running for cover alongside the Starbucks building in Dinkytown. Immediately, they bent down, coughing and whimpering. Some fortunate media that night had gas masks along. And although unused, a bulletproof vest was stowed in the back of at least one photojournalist’s vehicle.

With possible police use of rubber bullets, which can rupture an organ; noxious, dehabilitating tear gas or Mace; and dangerous rioter activity, the media’s ability to use protective devices is essential to protect their well-being. This ability is also necessary in order to ensure the public knows about rioter and police activity at such events. If Minneapolis had not allowed media to protect themselves as needed, journalists would likely not have been willing to cover the event to the up-close extent they did.

Journalists in Miami will not be able to have the same right Minnesota journalists have, if a proposed city ordinance goes through. In response to possible violent protests at the upcoming Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial meeting, city officials want no one, not just protesters, to be able to have gas mask-type devices or body armor, including bulletproof vests.

The ordinance’s attempt to protect police and public safety is understandable and necessary to some extent. However, as it stands, it is too broad in whom it governs. The government must do its best to not disable journalists’ ability to cover events. By relinquishing the media’s ability to protect themselves, Miami would hamper free speech.