Knocking a smartphone out of someone’s hand? Come on, man, that’s rude. That’s unacceptable.
An incident caught on tape Wednesday in Duluth, in the hours leading up to the rally for President Donald Trump, was even more alarming, however, because the phone was being used by a photojournalist covering news in a public space.
Journalists play an important role in our society and democracy. They document. They create an accurate record for future generations. Any interference with their important work demands to be denounced soundly and, when appropriate, even criminally prosecuted.
WCCO-TV out of the Twin Cities posted the video of Wednesday’s incident, claiming its photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun was “attacked” during an “emotionally charged” moment by a “Trump supporter who was confronting a group of Joe Biden supporters.” The man seen in the video isn’t wearing any Trump gear, and both Trump and Biden signs can be seen bouncing in and out of the video’s frame. It also wasn’t initially clear what may have prompted the man to suddenly turn toward and strike the phone after stating, in what sounded like an agitated voice, “You guys want to be peaceful, be peaceful. You want to be violent, come to me and I’ll.” He then either slapped, backhanded, or punched the device to the ground while it continued to record. It’s hard to tell which in the blur on the video.
Regardless of why he did what he did and whether he was a supporter of President Donald Trump or the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, the incident follows a troubling spate of journalists being targeted while doing their jobs. Clearly identified reporters and photographers have been hit by tear gas, rubber bullets, and handcuffs this year. The number of incidents grew so disturbing that the Society of Professional Journalists in June issued an open letter, pleading, “Treat us with the same respect and dignity that you would want.”
It’s not too much to ask, even under our current political climate. Such acts aren’t who we are. Not really. Not deep down. They certainly aren’t who we want to be. We can and must strive to be better than moments of rising rage and high emotions.
Wednesday’s incident near the Duluth International Airport was reported to Duluth Police. The department was investigating, it said Thursday, adding that the male who hit the phone left without incident and that there were no injuries, property damage, or citations issued. Police need to investigate fully, bringing charges if warranted.
Journalists are the public’s eyes and ears. They inform us about what’s going on in our neighborhoods and communities. Reporters, photographers, and others toiling in the Fourth Estate — not for money or fame but as public servants in answer to a calling — help us make sense of our world.
But only if they’re allowed to do their job. Targeting them, including at breaking-news events, and intimidating or stopping them from carrying out their important work is serious as it is wrong. It can’t be tolerated, not in a free society that values its free press so much it guaranteed its work in the First Amendment of the Constitution.