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Asbury Park Press Journalist Targeted by Police
The streets of many New Jersey cities, like those in the rest of the country, are convulsing because people feel they’ve been denied a voice or simply were not being heard. That is why last night’s arrest of Asbury Park Press reporter Gustavo Martinez Contreras, while covering police brutality protests, is especially disturbing for the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ).
“It looks like Contreras was targeted as a journalist,” according to his editor, Paul D’Ambrosio, who spoke with NJ-SPJ. “Gustavo was wearing his credentials and he had been among the cops who arrested him for several minutes.” D’Ambrosio, who is also the executive editor of APP.com, points out that an officer can be heard saying, “F–k ‘em, he’s the problem” on Contreras’ Twitter video in the seconds before Contreras was grabbed by police. (Please see APP.com and Twitter @newsguz.)
NJ-SPJ condemns the arrest. We are gratified that the charge — failing to obey an order to disperse — is being dismissed and that the NJ Attorney General is declaring that “We will…make sure it doesn’t happen again. Because in America, we do not lock up reporters for doing their job.”
With all due respect, though, these things will continue to go wrong until the value of journalists and their reporting is understood by all. It only takes one individual police officer to silence the press at any given place, in any given moment. As we have seen with what happened to George Floyd, events on a single street corner carry immense importance. Frankly, there are not that many journalists out on the streets in the first place, covering stories like this, which makes it essential to stand-up for each reporter, every time.
When reporters are silenced, or even detained, the public is denied an accurate picture, which creates space for rumors and resentment to grow. Just prior to his arrest, Contreras’ Twitter video reveals police officers aggressively wrestling two young women to the ground and handcuffing them. Seconds later, they were telling Contreras, “Shit’s over, go home!” and then “Get your f—ing hands behind your back.” Editor D’Ambrosio observes that it only took a few seconds for things to go bad, even after the Asbury Park police had earlier cooperated with the Asbury Park Press to have reporters covering the protests past curfew.
Ironically, prior to his arrest, Gustavo Martinez Contreras had filmed an exceptional moment when police and protestors took a knee together, in recognition that the death of George Floyd is revealing truths that all must confront with honesty and empathy.
The New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists (NJ-SPJ) notes that protestors and police in many cities, most notably Newark and Camden, are working to allow mass protests to continue in a peaceful manner. Most of the protests in Asbury Park have also been peaceful and, earlier today, there was a peaceful protest in Toms River. We know this, and so do you, because journalists in those cities are doing their jobs, despite the hazards they face.
Through the George Floyd protests and the continuing COVID-19 crisis, the people of New Jersey are demonstrating their ability to process complex information, both the good and the bad. For this to continue, NJ-SPJ urges you to do one more thing: Support your local journalist.