Mar 10, 2021 - News

Des Moines Register reporter says race played "huge part" in her case

Photo: Tobias Tyler

Des Moines Register reporter Andrea Sahouri, who was acquitted of all charges that she incurred while covering a Black Lives Matter protest last May, tells Axios she believes her race played a significant role in not only her arrest last summer, but also the push to uphold the charges so she would be forced to stand trial.

Why it matters: There's irony in the fact that while covering an anti-racism protest last summer, Sahouri felt as though she was targeted by the police for her race. Sahouri is Palestinian.

Details: In an interview with Axios hours after she was found not guilty on two misdemeanor charges, Sahouri said that the race angle felt clear given her colleague who was with her at the time, former Des Moines Register reporter Katie Akin, was neither targeted nor arrested. Akin testified at the trial this week.

  • Flashback: Polk County attorney John Sarcone said in a statement to the Des Moines Register in August: "We strongly disagree with how this matter has been characterized and will do our talking in the courtroom, which is the proper place to deal with this case..."
  • In response, Sahouri told Axios, "If he claimed he wanted the courtroom to do the talking, our judicial system puts faith in the jury and they also agreed with us."

The big picture: As Axios has previously noted, one of the major issues addressed in this case but still unresolved is how the press should identify themselves when covering protests or other dangerous situations where police may be involved, without putting themselves in danger.

  • Sahouri said she didn't have a press badge, let alone any other type of identifier at the time, in part because she was new to the Register. "The afternoon I was arrested, our editor was working to get me one."
  • She did note that this dichotomy is complicated.
  • "It's often advised (for journalists) not to wear press identification for multiple reasons," she said. "Some people don't trust the media and you might not be as approachable. In many instances, the press is targeted."

What to watch: It's unclear how the state will approach these matters moving forward, given this was a clear rebuke of its decision to bring Sahouri to trial for two minor offenses.

The bottom line: Asked what her advice to other journalists covering protests would be, Sahouri says: "Don't let my experience deter you."

  • "I know a lot of people may want to bring the media down but just remember we have a crucially important role to play in documenting history."

Go deeper: Des Moines reporter's acquittal lauded as victory for press freedom

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