Reporter goes to trial over arrest during BLM protest in U.S.

Andrea Sahour

A media report from the U.S. said:

The trial of journalist Andrea Sahouri began Monday with a police officer stating that he had no choice but to arrest her during last year’s racial justice protests in Des Moines, Iowa, because she did not leave the area after he deployed pepper spray.

Sahouri, a Des Moines Register public safety reporter, is one of 116 journalists arrested or detained while covering Black Lives Matter protests that erupted after the death of George Floyd, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, but she is the first to be taken to trial. She is charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts, both misdemeanors.

“This is a case about a journalist arrested for doing her job,” defense attorney Nicholas Klinefeldt said during opening arguments.

The case has drawn widespread condemnation by journalists and press freedom advocacy groups. At least 11 other journalists still face charges connected to incidents that took place during Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Sahouri is the first journalist arrested while covering a protest whose case has made it to trial since Jenni Monet was acquitted in 2018 of trespassing charges while covering the demonstrations against an oil pipeline at the Standing Rock indigenous reservation, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

“When reporters are arrested, assaulted or otherwise prevented from doing their jobs, it is not an attack on just a single journalist or a media company,” the Register’s editorial board wrote last month. “It is an attack on everyone’s rights to be informed and to hold those in power accountable for their actions.”

Police pepper-sprayed and arrested Sahouri and her boyfriend at the time, Spenser Robnett, who said he accompanied her for safety reasons, on May 31 as she covered a protest outside a Des Moines mall. Robnett is accused of trying to pull her away from the arresting officer and is being tried in conjunction with her. If convicted, they could both face fines and stints in jail.

The prosecution team told jurors Monday that the misdemeanor case hinges on “three pretty simple questions” of whether Sahouri and Robnett were told to disperse, whether they did disperse and whether they tried to pull away from the arresting officer.

Prosecutors charge that Sahouri and Robnett refused law enforcement orders to disperse — issued 92 minutes before her arrest — after some demonstrators began vandalizing businesses and throwing objects at officers around Merle Hay Mall in Des Moines, and they argue that her role as a journalist didn’t give her special status to remain in the area.

Demonstrators had gathered at the mall because it was the last place that Abdi Sharif, a teenager from a Somali immigrant family, was seen alive before he disappeared in January 2020. His body was discovered in a river in May. Police ruled the death a suicide, which his family find hard to believe. Des Moines police also said they acted “tirelessly” in the investigation, which Sarif’s family and activists criticized as lackluster. The Des Moines Black Liberation Movement demanded a more thorough investigation last year.

Luke Wilson, the officer who made the arrest, detained Sahouri outside a Verizon Wireless store across the street from the mall. On the stand Monday, Wilson said he used a “fogger” to deploy pepper spray toward a group of people outside the Verizon store to get them to disperse and then took Sahouri into custody because she was still there.

“Once she didn’t leave, I’m required to arrest, because she didn’t disperse,” Wilson said. When Robnett tried to pull Sahouri from his grip, Wilson said, he sprayed more pepper spray to “maintain control of the situation and maintain control of Ms. Sahouri.”

In a video Sahouri recorded in police custody that night, she said she told police multiple times that she was a reporter with The Register. However, she said, “police deliberately took me, sprayed pepper spray on my face and then put me in zip ties and in the back of a cop car.”

Wilson said that he arrived at a chaotic scene in which people were throwing rocks and water bottles at police and that he didn’t realize he had failed to activate his body camera. He also said he was wearing a gas mask and riot gear and didn’t hear Sahouri say she was a member of the media.

Prosecutors had tried to prevent Sahouri’s defense team from discussing her job as a reporter, arguing that it was irrelevant and that police believed she was one of the protesters, according to court records. In a police report, an officer described Sahouri as being “dressed very casual and had the appearance of many other subjects on this date.”

The trial was scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.

Less than 20 percent of Americans support ‘defund the police,’ poll finds

Another report said:

The poll questioned 1,165 Americans between March 1st and 2nd and discovered 67% of white citizens are against the strategy, along with 84% of Republicans

Despite calls for police reform, many Americans are not in favor of defunding the police.

A new study published on Sunday by Ipsos and USA Today disclosed that most Americans are not in favor of defunding the police. While many activists call for police reform, the strategy that suggests redistributing funds allocated for police departments has been met with major criticism.

The poll questioned 1,165 Americans between March 1st and 2nd and discovered 67% of white Americans are against the strategy, along with 84 % of Republicans

The term began to gain momentum in 2020 after the death of George Floyd, who died due to police brutality. Activists like Tamika Mallory have been instrumental in leading the charge for police reform and said some assume the term calls for police abolishment, even though that is inaccurate.

“Number one – it is not what I think defund means, I know what it means, because there’s a big difference between abolishment and defunding,” said Mallory to The Jasmine Brand in December.

The study adds that a whopping 67% of people oppose abolishing the police, but Mallory is not one of them. She goes on to explain she is in favor of abolishing the police, but the idea does not support a lawless society.

“Abolish police would be to get rid of police forever, right? And, I am an abolitionist, and there are many who are, who believe that one day we could get to a place where we have a different system for addressing, you know, rape, and murder and things that require people who might not be able to function in society with the rest of us…to put them somewhere or deal with them in some way.

Which, I also believe that if you back up and deal with the mental health issue in our community, you may actually be able to reduce some of even the rape and the murder and other things, because we’re passing down generational trauma, and that has to be addressed. So I do believe that one day we can abolish the police.”

Republicans and white citizens are not the only demographic concerned about the term. According to the study, only 34% of Democrats and 28% of Black citizens support defunding the police.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama caught heat when he suggested altering the slogan. He said people tune out the idea of restructuring the police force when they hear terms like defund.

“If you believe, as I do, that we should be able to reform the criminal justice system so that it’s not biased and treats everybody fairly, I guess you can use a snappy slogan like ‘Defund The Police,’ but, you know, you lost a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done,” Obama told CNN.

He also had a suggestion for a new slogan.

“But if you instead say, ‘Let’s reform the police department so that everybody’s being treated fairly, you know, divert young people from getting into crime, and if there was a homeless guy, can maybe we send a mental health worker there instead of an armed unit that could end up resulting in a tragedy?’ Suddenly, a whole bunch of folks who might not otherwise listen to you are listening to you.”

Obama may be on to something. Overall, 43 percent of participants were in favor of reallocating police funds. Democrats mostly favored the idea at 67%, while just 16% of Republicans support the vision.



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