SANTA FE, N.M. — Aaron Cantú went to Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day to cover protests for the Santa Fe Reporter, and now he’s facing extensive jail time.
He and 214 other defendants were arrested on charges ranging from conspiracy to riot to destruction of property on Jan. 20, when thousands took to the streets in the nation’s capital to rally against the instatement of Donald Trump as president. What sets Cantú apart from most others, however, is that he was working as a member of the press, and thus should be protected by the First Amendment.
Editor and publisher of the Santa Fe Reporter, Julie Ann Grimm, said she’s concerned about what this means for journalists in the United States.
“When a journalist is dispatched to something like a protest, and the police decide to arrest people just for being there, that puts a big limit on what a journalist can do to tell the story,” Grimm said. “And it also is terrifying.”
She said her reporter could spend years in jail for “wearing a black sweatshirt in a place where other people in black sweatshirts may have been committing crimes.”
According to the complaint, hundreds of protesters wore dark colors and masks to hide their identities while they smashed windows of banks and businesses, and set a limousine on fire while assaulting the driver.
Cantú was taken into custody using a tactic called a “kettle” that police use to trap and arrest large groups of people at once. He had credentials indicating that he was a journalist, but was arrested anyway. He now faces prison time for the charges.
Grimm said authorities infringing on the ability of reporters to cover events such as protests is indicative of a larger problem. She pointed to popular attitudes toward the media as one culprit.
“We think there’s a feeling out there among some people that journalism isn’t important, and that it isn’t noble, and that it isn’t necessary,” Grimm said. “So that’s how we get into the situation where journalists are regularly being jailed for trying to do their jobs.”
Cantú has pleaded not guilty to all counts. Six other journalists were arrested that day and most of their charges have since been dropped, but his remain.Like this story? Sign up for our daily newsletter to get more of our best original news.