The arrest live on air of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez felt like an all-too-common case of being black in the wrong place and at the wrong time, and a striking reminder that at any point it could be any one of us black journalists.
The Afro-Latino correspondent and his crew were standing in an area the police were attempting to clear, and when he calmly asked where the officers wanted him and his crew to move, the police arrested them. The footage was chilling, and while the Chicago-based reporter was released hours later, unharmed, his arrest was a visible representation of what’s usually an invisible story.
It exemplified what it means to be black in the news industry: Covering stories about the racialized violence and mistreatment of people that look like us, people who are us, makes it nearly impossible to separate ourselves from the story.
Like clockwork, every few months of relative calm is followed by a new hashtag. A new black life taken wrongfully, abruptly, seizes national attention. Another #Trayvon, a #TamirRice, an #EricGarner, #MikeBrown, #SandraBland, #PhilandoCastile (and the list goes shamefully on, but you should always #saytheirnames). Now, within weeks, we’re hit with #GeorgeFloyd, #AhmaudArbery, and #BreonnaTaylor. As each new name makes its way to the top of the news cycle, we mourn as we attend pitch meetings where we are expected to be present both physically and mentally, receive constant alerts of devastating updates, and watch the harrowing videos on endless loops. And unlike others who may choose to stay away from the news during times like this as a means of protecting their mental health, we can’t, because without journalists, the truth stays hidden.
Only this time, coming during the presidency of a person who has openly stoked the flames of racism, the pangs hit harder than ever. And even before the current spat of racial weaponization and violence, we have had to watch as our fellow reporters become punching bags and are belittled by Donald Trump who shows little regard for journalism that is critical of his administration, and even less for people who don’t look like him.
Black reporters like April Ryan, Yamiche Alcindor, Abby Phillip and Don Lemon have all become targets of Trump’s hate while covering his administration. The president has referred to Ryan as a “loser,” said one of Phillip's questions was “stupid,” and dismissed Alcindor’s inquiry about white nationalism as “racist.” Those are just the tip of the iceberg of Trump’s attacks on black people and women.
But we know that, despite the trauma of watching the evils of racism rise to the surface, we have a responsibility as journalists. We put on brave faces, and we show up to do the jobs we committed to because, as we know, who better to tell the stories of black lives than those of us who live them?
We report on tragedies involving people who could have been our uncles, our fathers, our cousins, our mothers, and, as Jimenez experienced first hand, ourselves.
We aim to cover these stories without bias even while combating the everyday moments of racism we face in our own careers (microaggressions, respectability politics, fighting to be seen, and never being heard).
Being a black journalist right now is hard. We are constantly reminded that we can be put in harm’s way while jogging, birdwatching, grilling, sleeping, or just doing our jobs.
Black journalists are working relentlessly to tell our stories and praying that we don’t become one of them. In times like these, it’s vital to come together as a community to support one another. Not only for our own sake but for the voices of the next generation.
Journalist Dorothy Butler Gilliam said it best:
“In 1961, I became the 1st Black woman hired at the @washingtonpost. The amount of racism & prejudice I dealt with would make most QUIT. I persevered. I’m excited to see young journalists push past fear to report news NOW! Silence doesn’t solve problems; action solves problems!”
To the black journalists on the frontlines who are pushing past fear and risking their lives and mental health to bring people the truth, we see you. We support you. We stand in solidarity with you. We got you.