This timeline tracks free expression issues that arose following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police on March 25, 2020. It is a working document that will be updated to reflect new developments. If you have something to add, please use our Report Censorship form.
George Floyd Killed by Police
In Minneapolis, MN, George Floyd was pronounced dead after Officer Derek Chauvin placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for approximately eight minutes. Reconstructed footage presents the sequence of events that lead to Floyd’s murder, which has ignited protests across the country and amplified the call for long-overdue police reforms.
CNN Crew Arrested on Live Television
Members of a CNN crew have been released from Minneapolis police custody after they were arrested during a live broadcast. The arrest occurred despite the fact that correspondent Omar Jimenez displayed his press pass and told officers that he was willing to move locations.
Protesters Tear Gassed to Clear Path for Trump Photo Op
Police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse peaceful protesters in front of the White House to clear a path so President Trump could walk to nearby St. John’s Church for a photo op. Although Trump has faced condemnation for his crackdown on citizens exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, some evangelical leaders have praised the president’s actions.
Philadelphia Inquirer Journalist Arrested
While covering protests in Philadelphia, Kristen Graham, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, was handcuffed and held for hours because she entered an area that was “off-limits,” although there were no warning signs. She was arrested despite the fact she was wearing a press pass.
Free Speech Under Fire (NCAC)
NCAC condemns the assault against the free speech rights of protesters and reporters. Officers, whether by individual action or by direct order, have often failed to support protesters’ rights to assemble. Additionally, at a time when free press is especially important, there have been over 160 reports of journalists being harassed, arrested or hurt when covering protests.
Tom Cotton Op-Ed Published
The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton that calls for politicians to restore order through “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain and ultimately deter lawbreakers.” The article received considerable backlash from Times employees, many of whom argue that the op-ed contained factual errors and endangered their Black colleagues covering protests. Others, however, disapproved of the internal backlash, claiming Times has an obligation to give a voice to controversial opinions and a range of political views.
Police Overwhelmingly Responsible for Attacking Journalists
Data compiled by the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker shows that, between May 26 and June 3, 149 of the 180 assaults on journalists were conducted by the police. Reporters see the attacks as a reflection of an erosion of trust of the media under President Trump.
Press Freedom Groups Call for Journalist Safety Measures (NCAC)
NCAC joins Reporters Without Borders in urging public officials across the country to halt abusive police actions taken against journalists and violent crackdowns on peaceful protests.
Philadelphia Media Groups Write to Mayor Over Police Violence (NCAC)
NCAC joins Philadelphia media organizations in sending a letter to local officials urging action against the growing trend of unwarranted arrests and police violence against journalists and protesters.
Grand Ledge Superintendent Fired
In Michigan, the Grand Ledge Board of Education votes unanimously to terminate Superintendent Brian Metcalf after his comments on George Floyd’s death. Metcalf wrote on Facebook that “had he not paid with counterfeit money, had he not resisted, had he not been under the influence” Floyd would still be alive. Metcalf also acknowledged that this “does not excuse the officer.”
University of Kentucky President Announces Plan to Remove Controversial Mural from Campus
University President Eli Capilouto announced in an email to students plans to remove a 1930s-era mural depicting aspects of Kentucky history, including slavery. Some students have demanded its removal because they consider it demeaning to people of color on campus.
Philadelphia Inquirer Editor Stan Wischnowski Resigns
Stan Wischnowski, the top editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, announces his resignation after receiving internal criticism for the headline “Buildings Matter, Too” in the June 2 newspaper. Wischnowski’s resignation comes as The New York Times receives ongoing condemnation for its publication of Tom Cotton’s op-ed, raising the question of when the media goes too far in publishing contentious speech.
The New York Times Opinions Editor James Bennet Resigns
The New York Times Opinions Editor James Bennet resigns after receiving backlash over Senator Tom Cotton’s op-ed. Bennet was criticized on the grounds that he did not read Cotton’s piece before it was published and that the article fell short of The Times’ editorial standards. However, those who disagree with Bennet’s resignation view it as encouragement to stifle, rather than openly debate, views from ideological opponents.
Minneapolis Pledges to Dismantle Police Force
A majority of the Minneapolis City Council has pledged to dismantle the Police Department, arguing that the city’s policing system cannot be reformed and a new system of public safety must be created. The pledge comes as a response to protestors who have demanded abolishing and “defunding” police departments across the country.
Publishing Employees Observe a Day of Action
Workers at major publishing houses call out from work for a “day of action” to protest the Big Five publishers’ responses to the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many other Black lives lost to racist violence. The protestors hope to also send a message to their companies to stop publishing racist books.
UCLA Business School Lecturer Placed on Leave
Gordon Klein, a long-time Anderson School of Management lecturer, is placed on leave for his response to a student’s email requesting shortened exams and extended project deadlines in light of recent protests. Klein said, in part, “Thanks for your suggestion in your email that I give black students special treatment, given the tragedy in Minnesota. Do you know the names of the classmates that are black?” The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written a letter opposing UCLA’s decision to place Klein on leave, arguing that he followed UCLA protocol and was judged solely by the tone of his email, which is protected expression.
Governors Must Protect Journalists Covering Protests (NCAC)
NCAC joins PEN America in sending letters to every governor in the country calling on them to affirm their commitments to press freedom. As of June 10, there have been over 405 violations of press freedom during protests, including at least 86 physical attacks and 58 arrests.
New York Officially Repeals 50-A
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signs legislation repealing Section 50-A of the New York Civil Rights Law, which for decades barred access to disciplinary records of officers. The legislation will publicly disclose these disciplinary records and increase systematic transparency to increase accountability. It also bans chokeholds, prohibits false race-based 911 calls and makes the New York State Attorney General the independent prosecutor in killings of unarmed civilians by police.
Congress Must Include Whistleblower Protection in Police Reform Bill (NCAC)
NCAC joins the Government Accountability Project and 30 other organizations in sending a letter to representatives in Congress, urging that The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act include whistleblower protections for law enforcement officers who can enforce reforms through the reporting of abuse and misconduct by their colleagues.
Mt. Ascutney School Board Removes Principal (NCAC)
School officials demoted Windsor High School Principal Tiffany Riley for writing a social media post seen as critical of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the post, Riley writes, “I do not think people should be made to feel they have to choose black race over human race” and “just because I don’t walk around with a BLM sign should not mean I’m a racist.” NCAC wrote to the school board urging them to reverse the decision.
California DA Files Whistleblower Complaint
After Sajid Khan, a deputy alternate public defender in Santa Clara, published two posts on his blog urging protesters to consider the role prosecutors play in perpetuating racial bias and police brutality, District Attorney Jeffrey Rosen wrote to his staff that he found the posts threatening to his office. Rosen has filed a whistleblower complaint to initiate a formal investigation into the matter, stating that Khan’s posts have “serious safety implications.” Rosen has been supported by an op-ed written by several black prosecutors, while Khan has the support of the head of the Silicon Valley NAACP and his public defender colleagues.
Trump Says He Wants to Punish Flag Burning
During a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, President Trump declared his desire to make flag burning a crime punishable by one year in prison. Trump has continued to push for the policy on Twitter despite the fact that laws outlawing flag burning were declared unconstitutional more than thirty years ago in Texas v. Johnson.
Art Teacher Arrested at Trump Rally
Sheila Buck, a 62-year-old art teacher, was arrested at Trump’s Tulsa, OK, rally when she showed up wearing an “I can’t breathe” T-shirt and kneeled down to pray at the event. Buck and her attorney intend to pursue a lawsuit against the city and police department for violating her First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Workers Lose Jobs Over Misunderstanding of Free Speech Rights
Private employers are free to discipline or fire workers if their speech is viewed as harming the business or its reputation. Unaware of this, several employees across the country have been fired for publicizing unpopular views on the Floyd protests.
Educator at Staten Island School Investigated Over “Racist Rant”
Nearly 10,000 parents have signed a petition to remove New Dorp High School Assistant Principal Deborah Morse-Cunningham after she wrote a Facebook post they believe contains racist stereotypes. The NYC Department of Education has launched an investigation.
Penn State Retracts Tweet Saying Conservative Statements are Important
Penn State recently deleted a tweet that expressed support to minority students as well as students who possess conservative views. Some Penn State students condemned the tweet, saying that the experiences of conservative students cannot be presented as equal to those of minority students, while other right-wing outlets considered the post a much-needed statement about intellectual inclusivity.
Freedmen’s Memorial Garners Controversy
Some are calling for the removal of the “racist” Freedmen’s Memorial in Washington, DC. It features a standing Abraham Lincoln granting freedom to a kneeling Black man naked from the waist up. Others argue it that it has important historical significance, and therefore is fundamentally different from Confederate monuments. While the monument undeniably presents a racist image, its construction was paid for by Black Americans and its unveiling featured a historic speech by Frederick Douglass.
De Blasio to Cut NYPD Funding by $1 Billion
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio has agreed to shift $1 billion in annual funding out of the New York Police Department, lowering the department’s budget from $6 billion to about $5 billion. The funds will be put towards youth and social services as well as New York City Housing Authority developments.
Trump Posts Video of Couple Brandishing Guns Towards Protestors
President Trump retweets a video showing a Missouri couple brandishing guns towards protesters who were calling for police reforms. The couple, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, are personal-injury lawyers who claimed they feared for their lives and that the protesters were on their private property. The city’s chief prosecutor is looking into the matter, stating that any attempt to threaten the right to peaceful assembly “will not be tolerated.”
Press Members Continue to Face Attacks
There have been over 470 reported aggressions against journalists covering Black Lives Matter protests, including over 62 arrests. These numbers are unprecedented.
Arizona Cops Use Drone Surveillance to Arrest Protestors
In Tempe, Arizona, police used drone surveillance footage to justify the arrest of three protesters who were allegedly stopping traffic during a Black Lives Matter protest. There have been few drone-aided arrests in the United States, raising questions over the extent to which Black Lives Matter protesters have been subject to unprecedented aerial surveillance.
Chattanooga High School Valedictorian Speech Cut Short (NCAC)
DayOnna Carson, the Chattanooga High School valedictorian, was cut short when she began to read her final line, “No justice, no peace,” of her commencement speech. The principal has since apologized for the incident and has maintained that it was by no means intentional. However, NCAC has written to the district superintendent asking that her entire speech be re-recorded and presented to the student body.
NCAC Opposes Removal of Mural at the University of Kentucky
University President Eli Capilouto announced in an email to students plans to remove a 1930s-era mural depicting aspects of Kentucky history, including slavery. In response, NCAC sent a letter to Capilouto calling for the mural to be retained.
Seattle Occupation Protest Dispersed
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issues an executive order declaring that gathering in the Capitol Hill Occupation Protest (CHOP) area is now considered “unlawful assembly.” Protestors have occupied the CHOP area for weeks, though recent shootings have pressured Durkan to disband the zone.
No Decision on Windsor HS Principal
Despite previous statements that Windsor High School Principal Tiffany Riley will be removed from her position, the Mt. Ascutney school board has yet to make a decision on Riley’s status. Following her placement on paid leave, Riley filed a lawsuit challenging the board’s action, and it is still ongoing.
ACLU Challenges North Carolina City Ordinance
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups are suing the city of Graham, NC, to block an ordinance the government is using to suppress protests against racism, police brutality and white supremacy. One of the most speech-restrictive laws in the nation, the ordinance makes it illegal for two or more people to gather without a permit for the purpose of protesting, and it gives the police chief complete discretion to deny permit applications on the basis of whether he or she believes the gathering might cause a “public disturbance.” The ordinance was in large part enacted to protect a Confederate monument in the city, and it represents a severe threat to free speech and assembly rights of Graham citizens.
Floyd Protests Have Generated More Media Coverage Than Any Protest in 50 Years
According to a study conducted by Michigan Professor Michael Heaney, the ongoing Floyd protests have garnered more media coverage than any other protest movement in the last 50 years. A number of factors can explain the heightened media coverage, including the fact that Floyd’s death was caught on camera, the protests have been extraordinarily widespread and President Trump has used divisive tactics in his response.
Critics Respond to LSA’s Letter Opposing Dr. Steven Pinker
A letter written by members of the Linguistic Society of America demanding that Harvard Psychology Professor Steven Pinker be removed from the society has come under considerable scrutiny. Barbara Partee, a linguistics professor at UMass Amherst, writes that the letter was misguided and that Dr. Pinker has played a lead role in fighting for racial and social justice throughout his career. The LSA Executive Committee also issued a response to the letter against Dr. Pinker, stating that the organization is committed to intellectual freedom and will not “control the opinions of its members, nor their expression.”
Harper’s Magazine Publishes Letter on Free Expression
Over 150 writers and professors sign “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate,” which argues that there is growing intolerance for free expression and open debate. The letter has received mixed reviews. It inspired another group of 150+ writers to issue a rebuttal.
Trump Campaign Ads Mislead Viewers
The Trump campaign has released a misleading advertisement showing a group of black protestors tackling and disarming a white man. In actuality, the protestors were preventing trouble, as the man they tackled was using a hammer to break up pieces of the sidewalk into potential projectiles. The Trump campaign later released a second advertisement using the same video.
Vermont Law School to Paint Over Mural
Vermont Law School has announced plans to paint over a mural by Sam Kerson that highlights Vermont’s role in the Underground Railroad and abolitionist movement. Members of the law school community have objected to its depictions of African Americans.
Twitter-Affiliated Startup Dataminr Helps Police Surveil Protests
Dataminr, a controversial artificial intelligence startup that has received backing from Twitter and the CIA, has been used by law enforcement agencies to digitally monitor the protests, tipping off police to social media posts about the latest whereabouts of demonstrators. Both Dataminr and Twitter deny that the protest monitoring tactics meet the definition of surveillance.
California Senator Introduces Legislation to Protect Journalists
California Senator Mike McGuire has introduced the Press Freedom Act to enhance and extend protections to members of the media who are attending demonstrations. The act will make it a misdemeanor for any law enforcement officer to obstruct, detain or prevent the press in any way from fulfilling their rights to report on the events taking place.
Federal Police Officers Use Unmarked Vehicles to Detain Protesters
Federal law enforcement officers have begun to use unmarked vehicles to detain protesters in downtown Portland, Oregon. The tactic corresponds with an escalation in federal force deployed to Portland city streets, as federal officials and President Trump have stated their intentions to de-escalate nightly protests in the city that have lasted for more than six weeks. So far, federal officials have charged at least 13 people with crimes related to the protests.
NCAC Opposes Use of Unidentified Federal Officers in Portland, Oregon
NCAC and Defending Rights & Dissent issue a joint statement condemning the detention of protesters by unidentified and militarized federal forces against the wishes of Portland officials. The statement also objects to the Portland Police Department’s use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators.
Press Freedom Violations Continue at Unprecedented Levels
According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, since the death of George Floyd on May 25, there have been over 500 reported aggressions against journalists covering demonstrations, including over 70 arrests. The heightened number of press freedom violations is unprecedented.