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Is silence really golden?

Image credit: National Review
Image credit: National Review
Image credit: National Review

As a writer, I wholly believe in the power of writing, both as a creative tool and a political one. To this day, the main problem I find with free speech is that it is only ever used as a justification for insult. Journalism, however, I strongly believe to be vital to society. If it is strongly biased then it reveals often a disturbing amount about its author, and if it is fundamentally rooted in recounting events then it is an invaluable tool to an untraveled man. As such, in the 21st Century I am still finding it hard to believe that America has arrested at least six (as of the 27th January 2017) journalists who covered unrest at President Trump’s Inauguration.

While a large portion of arrests were made due to legitimate vandalism which opposed the First Amendment, an equally large number of people were arrested simply due to being a part of the protest. Furthermore, attorney Jeffrey Light said that “he’s not sure why authorities chose to charge the entire group with a felony, rather than misdemeanor rioting… [he] speculates police wanted more leverage to extract plea deals related to Friday’s arrests” (US News). Videos from various journalists such as Alexander Rubinstein show the use of tear gas and flash bombs not only against rioting and potentially aggressive protesters, but also against those who are seen to be walking away. While, as expected, the city’s interim police chief Peter Newsham focuses on the six officers who sustained injuries, no excuse has been, nor can be made for such aimless uses of tear gas.

While the two hundred and thirty five arrests (and counting) can arguably be justified, the arrests of at least six journalists cannot be. In his video, Rubinstein makes abundantly clear the fact that he is media, and not part of the protest. He also showed his credentials to police before his arrest, emphasising that he was not a part of the protest. The Guardian states that none of the arrest reports for the journalists include any allegations of individual wrongdoing, thus implying the main cause for their arrest was simply reporting the protests. I grant that it may be hard to distinguish violent protesters from peaceful ones, but one would think that as a police officer, that distinction should be made more accurately than by circling a group of protesters and arresting them all.

The main issue here also seems to be one of censorship, however much it is skirted around. As rightly said by Verheyden-Hilliard, “You can’t arrest people for the acts of others simply because they arguably share a political view — that’s illegal”, and while this may be a hard distinction to draw, police should be trained for such things, as arresting people is probably a rather large portion of their work, and to do it mistakenly does not reflect on the peaceful protesters but rather the inability of officers to do their jobs.

The program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists says, “These charges are clearly inappropriate, and we are concerned that they could send a chilling message to journalists covering future protests.” Indeed, as I write this I wonder whether this article will be removed, despite coming only from a small, very angry though peaceful, writer in York. Somewhat ironically though, by retaining these journalists, the Inauguration protests have gained so much more publicity than was probably ever intended. I am unpleasantly surprised that this level of censorship can be applied in the 21st Century, although I am glad to hear that the few cases of it serve primarily to spark a fire in others.

Writing is, as oppositional acts go, a very calm one. It only provokes emotions that were already there, and very rarely serves to drastically change peoples’ minds, but I hope that the emotions I provoke with this piece are similar to my own; anger at injustice, and a desperate desire for the ability to express oneself. This event, as with many like it, has shown that censorship cannot be applied universally. Everyone can write, and everyone can make their voices heard.  Although admittedly this power can be used by either side of many opinions, often it is needed in place of numbers at a protest. They can be overestimated.  Words, however, cannot. The inspiring words of John Keating from Dead Poets’ Society spring to mind, and I hope that by repeating them, I may continue the spark of a dying ember and rekindle it in more hearts.

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”