Editorial | Journalism isn’t a crime; we stand with Andrea Sahouri

As student journalists, we recognize the example that Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri has set through her strength and perseverance.


Kelsey Kremer/The Register via I

Des Moines Register Reporter Andrea Sahouri learns she’s been found not guilty at the conclusion of her trial, on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, at the Drake University Legal Clinic, in Des Moines, Iowa.

Journalism isn’t a crime.

In May 2020, Des Moines Register reporter Andrea May Sahouri was arrested in Des Moines while covering a protest following the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd. Sahouri repeatedly identified herself as press to law enforcement screaming “I’m press. I’m press. I’m press.” She was still detained and charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts. Sahouri was acquitted by a jury on March 10 of both criminal charges.

Before the trial, Sahouri was offered a plea deal, but refused to take it — knowing she was innocent.

“The jury made the right decision,” Sahouri said in an interview with the Register. “They made the decision to uphold democracy, a just democracy, the freedom of the press, First Amendment rights, the list goes on.”

Sahouri was doing her job. And for nearly 10 months, she had to live with the thought that she may be put behind bars for doing it.

Journalists shouldn’t be afraid

As students learning the trade and looking up to people like Sahouri, it’s frightening to watch basic reporting duties questioned. The jury’s repudiation of the actions of the Des Moines police reinforces the freedom of the press and sets an example for future journalists.

But freedom of the press shouldn’t need to be reinforced in the first place.

There will be no free press without a realization from those in power that this job requires respect.

We shouldn’t have to fear ending up behind bars or with a criminal charge for doing our job.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 110 journalists were arrested or criminally charged in 2020 and around 300 were assaulted. In the majority of those cases, the assailants were law enforcement.

Among those detained in 2020 is student journalist Emily Houlshouser of The Daily Sundial, California State University Northridge’s student publication. Houlshouser was detained covering a Nov. 4 election-related protest in support of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, California. Officers declared a gathering including Houlshouser and other protestors an unlawful assembly.

We are at one of the most crucial points in our country’s history. 2020 was a time when communities came together in a global pandemic to stand for something bigger than themselves in hopes other generations would do better. As journalists, it is our job to document these events and make individuals aware of this turning point in racial and social justice.

There will be no free press without a realization from those in power that this job requires respect. By unlawfully stifling the press, law enforcement is doing more harm than good.

Support journalism and female-identifying journalists

Sahouri, a Palestinian American woman, was targeted by law enforcement and pepper-sprayed that day in spring 2020. A different officer released Katie Akin, a white Des Moines Register colleague, because she seemed compliant and scared, the officer testified.

Other white reporters were on the scene as well, but were not arrested and pepper-sprayed like Sahouri. Yet, the prosecution used TV news reporter footage of Sahouri’s arrest as evidence that she wasn’t allowed in the very same space.

It was just Sahouri — the woman of color — who was arrested.

Women in journalism have been subjected for years to instances of assault, harassment, and other forms of sexist commentary in the workplace. According to the International Women’s Media Foundation, 70 percent of women journalists have experienced more than one threat or attack in the past as they report.

Our state’s politicians turn their back on the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of the press but are quick to criticize our universities for allegedly stifling conservative views.

The Des Moines Register and other outlets across the nation have done great work in supporting Sahouri throughout this time. We need to recognize the problem that stems from individuals of power. It will string together a family of journalists to have her back, and all that will come after her. We need to continue to support women in the field.

Sahouri shouldn’t have been singled out for this. In an industry that desperately needs individuals of color to help amplify the voices of those underrepresented in traditional media, an attack on Sahouri was unlawful and unnecessary.

Her arrest and trial only proves the urgency of this issue. At all costs, we must protect women in journalism. Representation matters, and her storytelling deserves to be showcased. Placing barriers in women’s paths to helping serve communities by telling their stories only sets us back as a country.

When asked about Sahouri’s trial, Gov. Kim Reynolds refused to comment, and Sen. Chuck Grassley claimed he didn’t know much of what was going on. The response from Iowa politicians is unacceptable, especially when this trial caught the attention of national media.

Our state’s politicians turn their back on the First Amendment when it comes to freedom of the press but are quick to criticize our universities for allegedly stifling conservative views.

Elected officials need to care about this profession. Society cannot persevere without support for a free press from those in power. Seventy-three percent of Americans believe it’s important for the press to hold our political leaders accountable, according to a 2019 study from the American Press Institute. We have the responsibility to carry out this job, and our leaders must support the protections we need to do so.

Without us, America wouldn’t have been able to hear and witness the first-hand experiences of the Capitol riot in January. Without us, the stories of front-line workers and heroes of the pandemic would never be told. We’re not asking for unlimited authority. We know journalists can’t break the law to get the story. We need basic respect, an understanding that our job and the work we do is essential to a healthy democracy.

Thank you, Andrea

A thank you goes to Sahouri, from journalists everywhere, for displaying bravery in this experience and the utmost strength this last year. Sahouri’s courage set an example of standing for what is right and fighting for the constitutional right to a free press.

It’s unfortunate that we needed to get this far to correct the record, but now it is set in stone. Sahouri’s strength will go down in history for the future of journalism.

Sahouri, we stand by you. Thank you.

Editorials reflect the majority opinion of the DI Editorial Board and not the opinion of the publisher, Student Publications Inc., or the University of Iowa.

Editorial board members are Sarah WatsonAlexandra Skores, Hannah Pinski, Evan Mantler, and Cesar Perez