The National Press Photographers Association strongly condemns the acts of violence that we witnessed this week in Washington, D.C., at the U.S. Capitol. The NPPA calls on authorities to investigate and prosecute the threats, harassment and physical assaults against journalists as well as the destruction and theft of their equipment that occurred on January 6, 2021.
To do our jobs, photojournalists must be on the front lines to record the news. The threats, violence and aggression toward visual journalists are unconscionable acts that erode our democracy and our country’s First Amendment rights. A camera cable was knotted into a noose and hung over a tree branch. The words “Murder the Media” were scratched into a door inside the Capitol. Thousands of dollars in equipment labeled “Associated Press” was stomped on and destroyed. A @gopro video posted by Associated Press photographer Julio Cortez shows his colleague John Minchillo being attacked. The actions of the angry mob who descended on the Capitol could have been avoided.
The remarkable footage and still images made by these courageous photojournalists -- many who are NPPA members -- are already part of the historic record. Their harrowing first-person accounts are revealing their experiences at the center of the mob.
In a story by the Committee to Protect Journalists, NPPA member Amanda Andrade-Rhoades described how she was threatened by the mob.
“I had three different people threaten to shoot me over the course of the day,” Andrade-Rhoades said. “They weren’t armed as far as I could tell. I saw people with knives and pepper spray. If they had guns, I couldn’t see them. But I did see people in flak jackets and bulletproof vests, so clearly ready for armed combat. At one point, a guy leaned over to me and said, “I’m coming back with a gun tomorrow and I’m coming for you.”
Louie Palu, on assignment for National Geographic to photograph the election and its aftermath, told Susan Goldberg, editor of National Geographic, how he used his experience as a conflict photographer to stay safe.
“When I cover these things, I’m always looking for a pillar or a wall or somewhere I can take cover,” he said. “I look at what people are saying and how they are behaving, so I can gauge the safety of the situation.” What surrounded him at the Capitol, he says now, “felt like a medieval castle siege. … I watched the police, who I see every day on the Hill, become totally overrun by a wave of people determined to destroy an imagined enemy.”
Palu, an NPPA member, used a GoPro to film the scene inside the Capitol. “It was the ugliest moment I have ever seen in America,” Palu told Goldberg.
Erin Schaff, New York Times photographer, described her experience in a Times story how police found her hiding for safety after being assaulted by angry men inside the Capitol. The attackers had pushed her to the ground, broken her equipment and stolen her press credentials. Discovered by police as she hid from the mob, she told officers that she was a photojournalist and that her pass had been stolen, but they didn’t believe her.
“They drew their guns, pointed them and yelled at me to get down on my hands and knees,” said Schaff, an NPPA member. “As I lay on the ground, two other photojournalists came into the hall and started shouting ‘She’s a journalist!’ ”
“The officers told us it wasn’t safe to leave, and helped us find a room to barricade ourselves in. The two other photographers grabbed my hands and told me it would be OK, and to stay with them so they could vouch for me. I’ll never forget their kindness in that moment.”
Washington Post video journalist Zoeann Murphy posted a video on Twitter of being arrested on Wednesday. Shortly afterward, she followed up writing that they were “quickly let go” and were OK. She explained it was curfew-related and was quickly resolved as the media were exempt from the 6 p.m. curfew.
Wednesday’s attacks on the media were not limited to Washington, D.C. Journalists were pepper-sprayed and threatened by protesters outside the Utah State Capitol.
“NPPA working with other press freedom groups had a call the night before to discuss how we could best be prepared in case the scheduled protest in Washington became violent,” said NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher. “Starting that afternoon we monitored social media and provided information and updates through Twitter and direct texts and emails to those who needed help,” he added.
If you need legal help, direct-message Osterreicher on Twitter @nppalawyer or email [email protected]. You also can reach Alicia Calzada on Twitter @aliciaphoto or email her at [email protected].
This summer NPPA provided additional virtual training to journalists regarding First Amendment rights as well as safety and security as well as ongoing training with police and first-responders about the rights and limitations of the press to cover matters of public concern.
Chris M. Post is chair of NPPA's Safety and Security Task Force. He is very active on social media with guidance on safety in volatile situations.
"TV crews, keep an eye out and be cautious where you set up your live shot locations. Safe is your best bet or be very fluid on your feet and move at a moment’s notice," Post wrote on Twitter. "Also, if your location becomes unsafe kill your live shot and move on. Don't turn your back to the crowd or get caught between police and protesters. If you see a fellow journalist injured, lend a hand and render first aid if you know how! We're all in this together."
Post offers for people to direct message him on Twitter and Instagram (@ChrisMPost) or email him at [email protected]. Make sure you leave him your phone number.
Nothing is certain in the days ahead, but the NPPA can be counted on to be the voice of visual journalists. As hard as this week has been, we have been heartened to see our community of visual journalists checking on friends and colleagues while amplifying the work that is being done under difficult circumstances.
We are here to support our members and the broader community. Thank you for supporting each other and thank you for supporting the NPPA.
We stand with you.
The NPPA Board of Directors
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About NPPA: Since its founding in 1946, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) has been the Voice of Visual Journalists. NPPA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit professional organization dedicated to the advancement of visual journalism, its creation, editing and distribution in all news media. NPPA encourages visual journalists to reflect the highest standards of quality and ethics in their professional performance, in their business practices and in their comportment. NPPA vigorously advocates for and protects the Constitutional rights of journalists as well as freedom of the press and speech in all its forms, especially as it relates to visual journalism. Its members include still and television photographers, editors, students, and representatives of businesses serving the visual journalism community.