February 17, 2022
District Attorney Todd Williams
Buncombe County, North Carolina
60 Court Plaza
Asheville, NC, 28801
Sent via email
Dear District Attorney Williams,
We at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), an international non-profit press freedom organization, are writing to ask that you drop the misdemeanor trespassing charges pending against Asheville Blade reporters Melissa “Veronica” Coit and Matilda Bliss, who were engaged in journalism when they were arrested by Asheville police on the evening of December 25, 2021.
CPJ regularly documents killings and imprisonments of journalists around the globe. The United States is often considered a country where journalists and their reporting are welcomed and valued, and this track record has allowed the U.S. to provide global leadership on press freedom. It is therefore of acute concern when members of the media, such as Coit and Bliss, are arrested and charged in relation to their work.
At the time of their arrests, the two reporters were covering police evicting people in an encampment in Asheville’s Aston Park, a topic of public interest that had been covered by other local media outlets.
The Asheville Blade reported that Coit was photographing law enforcement actions when officers told the journalist to leave the scene or else face arrest. Officers then arrested Coit, even after the journalist had said they were a member of the press. Police also arrested Bliss, who had filmed Coit’s arrest and also identified herself to officers as a journalist, as the non-partisan U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a CPJ partner, documented at the time. Both were charged with misdemeanor trespassing.
It is confusing and deeply concerning that Coit and Bliss would be punished for committing acts of journalism. We urge you to drop charges against them. It is essential that local reporters are able to access and cover their communities without fear of retaliation from local authorities or infringement on their First Amendment rights.
We thank you for your time and consideration and would welcome further discussion.
U.S. and Canada Program Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists