Earlier this month a reporter in Connecticut was arrested while covering a protest against the city of Bridgeport on the second anniversary of a police shooting that killed a 15-year-old boy.

Tara O’Neill, a reporter for the Connecticut Post, is well-known to Bridgeport police. She was reporting the protest from a neutral vantage point on a public sidewalk and clearly identified herself as working press when a group of police accosted her, put her in handcuffs, threw her in a police car and took her to the station. She was later released without charge.

The paper’s vice president of news, Matt DeRienzo, rightly called the move a “completely unacceptable affront to freedom of the press.” He said O’Neill and the newsroom have been “relentless in covering misconduct and coverup” among police.

“So this feels like retaliation and intimidation against the press for holding them accountable,” DeRienzo said.

The police are thus far mum on the topic.

Not so First Amendment watchdogs.

In a letter to Bridgeport Chief Armando Perez and Mayor Joseph Ganim, New England First Amendment Coalition Executive Director Justin Silverman wrote, “While responsible law enforcement is crucial to the well-being of our communities, so is journalism. There is simply no excuse for a journalist to be arrested for doing her job.”

Silverman called on Perez and Ganim “to be transparent about {the arrest}, be accountable for the actions of your department and begin working with local newsrooms to restore the public trust that was lost last night with O’Neill’s arrest.”

He also called for an open review of police procedures and an apology, offering NEFAC as a resource. “We… believe there is no room for baseless arrests and intimidation of journalists in our communities.”

Silverman is 100% right… and there’s a lot at stake.

Journalists are already on their heels throughout the country, taking hits from all levels of government at the same time our numbers and resources are desperately dwindling. Already this year there have been five arrests of journalists in the United States, all on extremely precarious grounds seemingly intended to intimidate and harass reporters.

These arrests are an outrage and should bother anyone with an understanding of the bedrock role a free press plays as our system’s lone check on government.

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