A Florida state senator on Tuesday filed a bill seeking to include members of the press as a protected group in existing hate crime laws in the state in response to recent threats and attacks against journalists, The Hill reports.
State Sen. Janet Cruz (D) announced the proposed measure in a press release, writing that the legislation will allow for heightened penalties for threats and violence against members of the media, treating them as a protected class alongside race, religion and sexual orientation.
“It is a dark reality that members of the press in our country are facing a heightened risk of violent attacks as a result of irresponsible leadership throughout our country,” the press release stated.
Cruz noted in the release that during the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, journalists and other members of the press were “surrounded, intimidated, their equipment destroyed, and their lives threatened,” noting specifically the words, “Murder the Media,” that were scratched into one of the Capitol doors during the mob attack.
Cruz explained that the legislation will protect all members of the media, including “photojournalists and those operating equipment to facilitate the delivery of news or media.”
Despite praise from some on social media, others, including some Florida journalists, criticized the move, arguing that a person’s chosen profession should not be viewed by law in the same way as categories like race, gender or sexual orientation.
Several firsthand accounts from the Capitol riots showed how journalists were among those targeted in the attacks. In one incident captured on video, Associated Press photographer John Minchillo was shoved, dragged and yelled at by some in the mob.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker recorded 384 assaults on journalists in 2020, with 15 already assaulted in 2021.