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Texas Editor: Police in Uvalde Are Actively Obstructing Us from Doing Our Jobs

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Police and bikers in Uvalde, Texas, are restricting a growing number of journalists from reporting on the aftermath of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that left 19 fourth graders and two teachers dead. “None of us can ever recall being treated in such a manner and our job impeded in such a manner,” says Nora Lopez, executive editor of San Antonio Express-News and president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. “Newsgathering is a constitutional right, so at some point this will cross into basically official oppression,” she says. Lopez also says residents are now afraid to speak with the press after one parent of two Robb Elementary students reported police had threatened to arrest her if she spoke with reporters about how she rushed the school to try to save her children.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: At a church service on the Sunday after the shooting, Bella Barboza, who is 11 years old, spoke about her friend Ellie García, who was killed during the massacre at Robb Elementary School. Ellie had been set to celebrate her 10th birthday.

BELLA BARBOZA: She was — Ellie was a very bright girl. She made a huge impact on the church. She was very kind and very active and very confident. … I remember we were painting jars for Mother’s Day, and I was washing mine off because I didn’t like it, and we were in the restroom, and I dropped it. And she was like, “Your mom is going to get mad.” And we were laughing together, just looking at the glass on the floor. And it was funny. … It was shocking, because I had faith that she would have — she was in the other room. But when I found out, I was just like, “Well, she’s in a better place now. And if this happens again, she doesn’t have to go through that.”

AMY GOODMAN: “If this happens again.” We turn now to look at threats to the media in Uvalde, Texas. Houston Chronicle reporter names Julian Gill tweeted that while he was reporting on the funeral of one of the students killed in the elementary school massacre, several members of the biker club Guardians of the Children followed, blocked and surrounded him as he tried to approach a cemetery to meet a photographer. One of the bikers — guys on motorcycles — told him they were working with police who asked them to be there. Gill shared this video of his exchange with police and the biker club.

POLICE OFFICER: How’s it going?

JULIAN GILL: How’s it going? How are you?

POLICE OFFICER: Doing good.

JULIAN GILL: You’re with Lubbock PD?

POLICE OFFICER: Yes, sir.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: We’re Guardians of the Children. We’re a nonprofit 501(c)(3). We work with victims of child abuse, sexual assault, things of that nature.

JULIAN GILL: OK.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: We’re out here to provide a little bit of comfort and support for the families, help give them some space —

JULIAN GILL: Sure. Sure.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: — and let them grieve in peace.

JULIAN GILL: OK.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: So, you know, we just thought we’d come out, help some kids.

JULIAN GILL: Sure.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: Help some families in need. How are you doing today? Oh, man, don’t.

JULIAN GILL: All right. I’m sorry.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: Don’t bump into me, dude. Like, I mean —

JULIAN GILL: I’m just trying to — I’m just trying to do my job, sir.

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: No, I understand, but —

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 2: You’re not allowed on cemetery property.

JULIAN GILL: I’m sorry. Are you a police officer?

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 2: We’re working with the police. They asked us to do this.

JULIAN GILL: You’re working with the police?

GUARDIANS OF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 2: No! We are here to give the family space and time to grieve.

JULIAN GILL: Well, I just got you on video saying you’re working with police.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s just one example of the bikers confronting reporters in Uvalde, Texas, as officials there are facing increasing accusations of stonewalling the media.

For more, we’re joined by Nora Lopez, executive editor of the San Antonio Express-News, also the president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, just like my colleague Juan González was.

Nora, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you talk about what is happening with the press there, the stonewalling? Start with these bikers.

NORA LOPEZ: Well, first, thank you, Amy. And hi, Juan. Thank you both for inviting me to be on the show to talk about this really important topic and what’s happening right now in Uvalde.

Well, as you saw from Julian’s video — and I should explain that the Houston Chronicle is our sister paper, we’re both owned by Hearst, so we’ve had reporters from both papers in Uvalde reporting for both papers.

You know, the incident that you showed was from Thursday, and that’s when there were a lot of biker motorcycle clubs there who were telling us that they were there at the request of the police. To be entirely honest, we’ve never been able to confirm that from police themselves telling us that, yes, they invited them. But since then — actually, I think it was state Senator Gutierrez who helped us — they sort of backed down a little bit.

But, you know, more troubling is that the police has continued to also block access and basically harass reporters. As recently as Saturday and Sunday, one of my photographers was confronted by a police officer. And these are police officers that were not even from Uvalde. There’s about a dozen law enforcement agencies across the state who have sent some police officers there to help, because Uvalde is so small, and, yes, they’ve been overrun with both people who want to come from out of town to pay their respects and, of course, the media.

So, this treatment has continued. And honestly, it’s intolerable. They are blocking access to get close to the cemetery or to the churches or to the funeral home. They have set up roadblocks so we can’t even get within a block away. You know, the motorcycle bikers were physically standing in front of photojournalists, preventing them from being able to get any kind of video or to see anything. And it’s just been — it’s unprecedented. I’ve spoken to several reporters, including reporters from Spanish language, and none of us can ever recall being treated in such a manner and our job impeded in such a manner. It’s really extraordinary, the way things are unfolding.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nora, I wanted to ask you about a related issue, which is how law enforcement officials have dealt with the Spanish-language press in getting out information about this tragedy to the Spanish-speaking community, given the fact that Uvalde is more than — itself is more than 80% Latino, the public schools are more than 90% Latino, and that in the entire state of Texas, of more than 5 million public school students, more than 52% are of Latinx descent. And yet, what’s been happening in terms of getting out the word by law enforcement to the Spanish-speaking community?

NORA LOPEZ: Well, you know, at that very first press conference, there was some — they were taking questions, and I think it was already wrapping up, and one of the Spanish-language reporters asked, you know, “Can somebody speak to us in Spanish?” And I think at that point they were basically ignored. Nobody said anything. And it was — they got a lot of criticism on social media about this.

So, the very next day when they had a press conference, the first thing they said was, “Well, we’ll have somebody available after to speak to Spanish-language in Spanish.” And I’ve reached out to both Telemundo and Univision reporters, and they’ve said it’s gotten a little bit better. They don’t have anybody officially, but they’ve been able to find, you know, some officers who can speak Spanish who have been able to tell them a little bit. But it’s not the same thing as, as you and I both know as journalists, to have those officials who will have the facts as relayed to them to speak to Spanish-language.

So, that is a concern, and it’s a historical concern. Spanish-language media gets treated like second-class citizens at these types of events, and they’re basically left on their own to try to find someone who can do a standup in Spanish for them. But they do their job. I mean, this is not new to them. It’s pretty routine. And so they do what they need to do to find the people to talk to them in Spanish, and help give accurate reports to the public in their own language.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the overall police response, the lack of information so many days after this tragedy, as a veteran journalist, have you ever seen such difficulty in terms of getting just the basic facts of what happened and who was there, and not having all these corrections constantly issued by law enforcement?

NORA LOPEZ: None. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m a former police reporter. I’ve covered police in Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and I’ve never seen a response like this. And, you know, every day some little new incident comes up that directly contradicts what we were initially told. So, this is unprecedented. We’ve never seen anything like this.

And what really concerns me, Juan, is two things. One, you know, that police are actively obstructing us from doing our jobs. And as you know, newsgathering is a constitutional right. So, at some point, this will cross into, basically, official oppression. So we are exploring our options with our Hearst legal and considering to see if there’s any kind of legal option that we have. So that’s one thing. And that’s a really serious thing.

But then the other thing that’s equally concerning is that they are actually blocking people from — who want to talk to us, from talking to us, from talking to the media. So, there is a chilling effect that’s going on in Uvalde. And the residents are seeing this, and they are now afraid to talk to us, as well. I’ve heard this from a couple of reporters who have told me that they’ve had people say, you know, “I’m going to get in trouble if I say anything.” I think there was one TV station who has reported the same as — that somebody that they know that they were interviewing said that he lost their job. I don’t have confirmation of that. But it is a chilling effect that’s going on in Uvalde. And it’s —

AMY GOODMAN: Nora, didn’t the mom, who was handcuffed trying to get her kids out of the school, handcuffed by police, say that afterward she got a phone call that if she kept repeating this, that she would be arrested?

NORA LOPEZ: Yes, and they were saying the same thing to the media. You know, we’re walking on a public street, or we’re standing on a public sidewalk, and they’re telling us, “You need to move. This is private property.” And we’re like, “No, we’re — this is a public street.” And they’re, “If you don’t move, we’re going to arrest you.” And when we ask them, “Well, what is the charge?” they tell us something vague like, you know, “We’re protecting the privacy of the families.” So, that’s a really strange charge, something that’s not on the books, that I’m aware of.

So it’s a chilling effect. But make no mistake: The San Antonio Express-News is not going to pull out. We’re there. We are the big city paper that’s closest. And just as we did when we covered Sutherland, we will remain there for the long haul, because these people deserve their story to be told. And we don’t want this tragedy to be just swept under the rug. There needs to be — shine a light on what happened here, and there is so much that we don’t know. So much that we don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Nora Lopez, we want to thank you so much for being with us now and being out there with your reporters, executive editor of the San Antonio Express-News, also president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Next up, we speak to investigative journalist Keri Blakinger about her new memoir, out today, Corrections in Ink, describing her journey from addiction to prison to the newsroom. Stay with us.

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“Corrections in Ink”: Keri Blakinger on Her Journey from Addiction to Cornell to Prison to Newsroom

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