Je Suis Charlie, I Promise

On Jan. 7, 2015, I woke up late.

Normally I’ll get up around 6 a.m. and watch Eugene’s local KEZI news until 7 a.m., then watch Good Morning America until I leave for classes around 9 or 9:30 a.m.

But this day, I went straight to Facebook after steeping my black tea. One of the first posts to pop up on my feed had been shared by a friend who posts a lot of the videos that never make it onto the mainstream news sources — you know, all those heinous videos of police shootings, beheadings and fight videos.

The video he shared that day was from France. As I always do, I clicked the video without hesitation and saw a man in a uniform lying on a sidewalk while two other men, both wearing masks and armed with semi-automatic weapons, approached him. One of the masked men walked right up to the man on the ground and shot him in the head.

I was shocked.

I covered my mouth; my eyes stared wide and blank at my screen.

My wife asked me what it was. I clicked play again. Neither of us could make sense of it. Was this today? This was in Paris? Today?!

I turned on the television and received the torrent of information being delivered by every news station made available by Comcast. Terrorists had attacked Charlie Hebdo, a Parisian publication, and killed 12 people, including two journalists. The uniformed man was French National Police officer Ahmed Merabet; he was killed outside the building as the terrorists were fleeing.

After watching ISIS murder journalists, one after another, during the past year, this new attack jolted me.

When I decided journalism would be the field in which I would pursue a career, I never considered that I could potentially be murdered while working in an office, as opposed to a war zone.

More than fear, more than apprehension, more than worry — I was pissed.

As the days went on, and the suspects were identified and ultimately killed, a movement grew: Je Suis Charlie.

I bought a shirt with the phrase on it. I was beyond proud when it arrived nearly one month after the attack occurred. I wore it to school on the day it came.

I walked into Allen Hall ready to show my support, ready to stand in solidarity with France and every journalist on the planet. I was ready to argue with anybody who dared to dispute that there is and always should be a journalistic freedom of speech and expression, and that it’s up to journalists to question and inform.

I was disappointed.

Fewer students than I would have expected knew anything about it. Perhaps they’d heard about the Charlie Hedbo attacks on the day they happened, but it didn’t seem to be a lasting memory or any concern.

Today, at the What is Journalism conference panel discussing terrorism and journalism, Charlie Hebdo was the initial topic of discussion.

I felt those same feelings I felt on Jan. 7. I felt that solidarity once again as I heard the presenters talk about the attacks, talk about us versus them, journalists versus terrorists.

I know that Je Suis Charlie will always have meaning to me, as it should for every journalist. But for me, it will always remind me of the day I promised myself that I would never be afraid to have hard discussions about controversial topics because, to me, that’s precisely what journalism is all about.

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