Journalists in Texas Say Uvalde Police Are Actively Obstructing News Reporters

Uvalde police and bikers are preventing a growing number journalists from reporting on the aftermath to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas 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-NewsPresident 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 claims that residents are afraid to talk to the press now that Robb Elementary students’ parents reported to Lopez that police threatened to arrest her if Lopez spoke to reporters about her rush to rescue her children.


This is a hurry transcript. Copy may not be final.

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 was set to celebrate her 10th Birthday.

BELLA BARBOZA: She was — Ellie was a very bright girl. She made a significant impact on the church. She was kind, 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. 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 ChronicleJulian Gill, a reporter, tweeted about being covering the funeral of a student killed in the elementary school massacre. Guardians of the Children joined him, and they blocked and surrounded his attempt to get to 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 clip of his exchange with the police and biker club.

POLICE OFFICER: How’s it going?

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


JULIAN GILL: You’re with Lubbock PD?


GUARDIANSOF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1: We’re Guardians of the Children. We’re a nonprofit 501(c)(3). We help victims of child abuse, sexual violence, and other crimes.


GUARDIANSOF 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.

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


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


GUARDIANSOF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 1:Help others in need. How are you doing today, man? Oh, man, don’t.

JULIAN GILL:All right. I’m sorry.

GUARDIANSOF 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.


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

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

GUARDIANSOF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 2: We’re working with the police. They asked us for this.

JULIAN GILL: You’re working with the police?

GUARDIANSOF THE CHILDREN MEMBER 2: No! We are here for the family to grieve and to provide space.

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, we are glad to Democracy Now!Can you talk about the stonewalling, and the press there? These bikers are a good place to start.

NORA LOPEZ:Amy, first of all, thank you. Juan, hey! 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.

You should also know that the police continue to block access and harass journalists. One of my photographers was stopped by a police officer on Saturday and Sunday. These officers 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.

This treatment has been continued. And honestly, it’s intolerable. They are blocking our access to the cemetery, the churches, or the funeral home. They have set up roadblocks so we can’t even get within a block away. The motorcycle bikers were standing in front photojournalists, preventing them to take any kind of video or 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. They do their job. This is not something new for them. It’s pretty routine. They do what they have to do to find Spanish-speaking people and give accurate reports in their native language to the public.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ:What about the overall police response? Was it the lackluster information many days after the tragedy? As a veteran journalist, do you remember ever having such difficulty getting the basic facts and who was there and not having to constantly be corrected 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. Every day, a new incident occurs that contradicts what we were told. This is a rare situation. We’ve never seen anything like this.

Juan, I am most concerned about two things. The first is that police actively hinder us from doing our jobs. Newsgathering, as you all know, is a constitutional right. This will eventually lead, basically, to 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. The residents are seeing this and are now afraid to talk with us. 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, they were saying the exact 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, don’t let that fool you: San Antonio Express-NewsWe are not going to pull away. We’re there. We are the big city paper that’s closest. As we did with Sutherland, so will we continue to cover this story for the long-term. These people deserve to be heard. 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:We want to thank Nora Lopez for being here now and being out with your reporters, executive editors of the San Antonio Express-NewsPresident of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

Next, Keri Blakinger, investigative journalist, speaks to us about her new memoir. Corrections in InkShe describes her journey from addiction and prison to the newsroom. Stay with us.