The Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) calls on the United States Attorney’s Office District of Columbia to drop all criminal charges pending against Aaron Cantu. Cantu, a reporter currently working for AAN-member publication the Santa Fe Reporter, was working as a freelance reporter when we was arrested while covering Inauguration Day Protests in Washington, D.C. A hearing will be held on Thursday morning on Cantu’s Motion to Dismiss the charges against him; the United States Attorney’s Office should make this easy for the court and not oppose this motion – or, better yet, withdraw all charges against Cantu. In the event that this does not occur, we hope that Judge Lynn Leibovitz swiftly grants Mr. Cantu’s Motion to Dismiss.
“AAN and its members are outraged that one of our own faces 75 years for simply doing his job,” said AAN President Blair Barna, the Advertising Director & Co-Owner of the Charleston City Paper. “Though he was one of more than 200 people arrested and one of more than 30 arraigned, Aaron remains the only one of 7 journalists still facing charges. This was a reporter doing his job on one of the most newsworthy days in our nation’s history; that these charges are still pending is contrary to everything we have created and believed in over the 241 year existence of this country.”
Cantu was arrested while covering the “Black Bloc” protests which resulted in the destruction of property. Eight felony charges are pending, including inciting to riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot, and five felony destruction of property charges, despite the fact that Cantu’s indictment clearly shows that he did not commit any acts of violence. He was arrested when police employed a process called “kettling” in which law enforcement puts barricades around groups of protesters to keep them in place. Cantu and several protesters he was observing were kettled, forced to stay in place for several hours, and then arrested.
“Several reporters were released immediately upon showing their credentials; others were released after they self-identified as journalists. Aaron was not released and remains the only journalist still facing charges,” said Bradley Zeve, AAN Free Speech Committee Chair and the Founder & CEO of the Monterey County Weekly. “But Aaron was simply doing what any good reporter would do – he was staying close to the action but not becoming a part of the protest. The indictment itself says as much. Withdrawal of these charges is long overdue. This assault on the First Amendment rights of Aaron Cantu – and, by extension. journalists everywhere – must end now.”
More information about the background of this case can be found in this June 21, 2017 article in the Santa Fe Reporter, written by Baynard Woods, editor-at-large of the Baltimore City Paper, who is currently authoring a syndicated column titled “Democracy in Crisis” that is running in several AAN publications around the country.