OP-ED: There is always a line

Brad Simpson
Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association
Protesters dance following the York Black Lives Matter Peaceful Protest, with more than 1,000 in attendance, in York City, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. It would be the second day of larger scale protests in the city following the death of George Floyd, a Minnesota man who died in police custody on May 25. Dawn J. Sagert photo

There is always a line. A line that, when crossed, is a step too far.

The police in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, were doing their jobs until they crossed the line and George Floyd became a victim of police brutality that ended tragically with his death. Had those police officers not crossed that line, George Floyd would still be alive today.

Peaceful protesters have been rightfully demonstrating their outrage over senseless police brutality and racism that still exists in this country. There were others across the nation, however, who crossed the line with violence, anarchy and looting. Had these vicious individuals not crossed the line, the peaceful protests, and their supporters’ pleas for change and unity, would be the most important story.

These proverbial lines have been, sadly, too easy for us to see in the past week. The haunting video and images of Floyd lying on the ground are chilling. The images and videos of police in riot gear clashing with protesters shake us to our core. These are not the only lines that have been crossed in the past week.

Brad Simpson

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As president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association representing more than 300 print and digital newspapers across the commonwealth, I have witnessed another line in our country being crossed. That line is the attack on journalists and the media. Just as the First Amendment grants individuals the right to exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly, the First Amendment also protects the freedom of the press to gather and report news as it happens. Similar to the line crossed by rioters, the line has been crossed with the mistreatment of journalists.

There have been far too many pictures of bloodied and bruised journalists covering these protests. There have been too many cases of journalists being arrested and detained by police while trying to report on the protests despite visible press credentials. Journalists who cover wars and brutal regimes overseas understand the risks they take. Sadly, some have been detained, others injured and some have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Journalists covering protests in Pennsylvania and across the country should not be subject to the same level of risk as those who cover protests in war-torn nations across the globe. Journalists have a duty to act as the eyes and ears of the American people and performing that duty is not crossing any lines. They have a right and a responsibility to report on events happening in their communities and that right is sacred under the First Amendment.

Equally concerning are reports of journalists becoming victims of aggression from individuals who disagree with news coverage. Readers have a right to peacefully disagree with an article. Readers do not have a right to attack a journalist because they disagree with them.  I do not always agree with every story that I read in a newspaper, and sometimes I wish that a reporter would cover a story differently. However, I do not view the reporter as evil and I do not threaten them when I disagree with their words. That would cross the line.

While we have seen disturbing news take place across the nation, journalists have also brought us many great stories in the past week.  Police standing arm in arm or marching with protesters. Protesters self-policing and protecting stores from looters. Protesters identifying violent offenders to police. Volunteers cleaning up damage caused by rioters. Journalists have covered these positive actions in addition to the unfortunate bad news. Rather than crossing the line with their reporting, these stories helped to push the line farther away by illustrating our shared humanity and quest for peace.

Regardless of the uniform they wear, the color of their skin or the profession of their choosing, the people we are seeing on the news share more similarities with each of us than differences. They are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters. They are our neighbors. They are on the PTA of the local school. They are serving us hot dogs in the concession stand at the local youth sports league. They are sitting next to us at our places of worship. They are waving to us as we walk our dogs in the morning.

If we are to achieve and sustain peace, harmony and equality, we must all come together to accept one another, work with one another, help one another and respect one another. Once and for all, we must hold ourselves, and each other, accountable for never crossing the line that leads to violence against mankind. It is through our thoughts and our actions that together, we can we successfully hold and maintain a line of civility to all.

— Brad Simpson is the president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.