Later today, the award-winning journalist and host of Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman will walk into a law enforcement office in North Dakota and hand herself over to the authorities. She stands accused of participating in a “riot”.
In truth, all she did was what great journalists do every day. They speak truth to power. They go and report the stories that need reporting.
As Goodman said recently: “Going to where the silence is. That is the responsibility of a journalist; giving a voice to those who have been forgotten; forsaken; and beaten down by the powerful”.
In early September she reported on the fast escalating protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline that have since made news around the world. Her footage of protesters being bitten and pepper-sprayed by security guards has now been watched more than 14 million times on Facebook.
“On Saturday in Dakota, security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline company attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray as they resisted the $3.8 billion dollar pipeline’s construction”, she said.
The story went viral and lead to outrage from across the world, including, on CBS, NBC, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, and Huffington Post.
As I noted at the time: “A colleague who has watched Amy Goodman’s reporting for decades said it was the most passionate they had ever seen her broadcasting live.”
At one point Goodman could be heard shouting: “Why are you letting the dog go after the protesters? It’s covered in blood!”
When asked by Goodman why the struggle was important, the simple response from one protester, who had been maced twice and bitten was: “Because water is life … I wish they would open their eyes and have a heart”.
Goodman’s report on the incident was fundamentally important in showing the world the insidious tactics of the security company and violent methods they were using.
As an article in the Nation points out: “Goodman’s arrival at the main protest site, the Sacret Stone Camp was significant. At the time, not a single one of the major broadcast networks had sent a reporter to cover the Standing Rock mobilization; none had even bothered to mention it on the air … This was journalism that mattered.”
For helping the world wake up to what was happening in North Dakota, Goodman was issued with an arrest warrant for criminal trespass, which have now been changed to participating in a riot.
“I came back to North Dakota to fight a trespass charge. They saw that they could never make that charge stick, so now they want to charge me with rioting, ” says Goodman. “I wasn’t trespassing, I wasn’t engaging in a riot, I was doing my job as a journalist by covering a violent attack on Native American protesters.”
According to the state prosecutor for North Dakota, Ladd R Erickson, they do not see Goodman as a journalist. “She’s a protester, basically. Everything she reported on was from the position of justifying the protest actions.”
As Lizzy Ratner points out in the Nation: “It’s worth pausing here for a moment to contemplate the full and chilling absurdity of this statement …This notion should disturb anyone who labors in the journalism trenches, particularly those who dedicate their days, and often nights, to covering stories that challenge the mighty and prick at the powerful. “
As some who has spent 25 years writing about powerful industries that are polluting our planet, including a book called Green Backlash on how the rich and powerful have responded to the environmental movement, I see Goodman’s arrest as an attack on all journalists who are speaking truth to power and covering the destruction of our natural world.
It is a total disgrace and a stain on the judicial system of the United States. Dictators lock up journalists. Democracies do not.
I stand with Amy.
Nor is she alone. Deia Schlosberg, the producer of the film, How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change, was arrested in North Dakota whilst reporting on protests that shut down the tar sands. Charged with three counts of felony conspiracy, she faces a possible jail sentence of up to 45 years.
This is setting a really worrying trend. As Josh Fox, producer of Gasland, says “The First Amendment and the Constitution are at stake in this case. If we lose it, we lose America too … All this should send chills down the spine of every documentary filmmaker and journalist”.
Meanwhile, there will be a press statement by Amy Goodman in front of Morton County Courthouse: Expected Time: 1:45pm CDT, Monday Oct. 17th, 2016. Or follow twitter under the hashtags: #FreeAmyGoodman #NoDAPL #RezpectOurWater