Journalists covering George Floyd protests face attacks from police, advocacy groups say

Journalists have been arrested, tear gassed and more -- sometimes live on air.

June 1, 2020, 7:50 PM

As protests over the killing of George Floyd roil the nation, journalists covering the news have been indiscriminately arrested, tear gassed or shot with rubber bullets by local law enforcement -- at times even live on air.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, an advocacy and research group that records reported attacks on journalists, says it is investigating over 100 instances of attacks on members of the press from just the last three days. The majority of those aggressions have been from police.

In the last three days, at least 19 reporters have been arrested, 36 journalists have said they were shot at by police with projectiles such as rubber bullets and 76 have reported assaults (with 80% of those assaults being by police officers), according to their tally. The group cautions that the figures are preliminary and could change after their investigations.

Last week, video of a black CNN journalist being arrested live on air went viral, garnering outrage and a direct apology from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.

As the protests continued across the country over the weekend, however, similar instances kept rolling in, many of them shared on social media by the journalists themselves.

Video of a journalist in Louisville, Kentucky, with the local NBC News affiliate WAVE3 appeared to show police taking aim and shooting rubber projectiles at the reporter and her crew while live on air.

Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske said on Twitter that she and other colleagues covering the protests in Minnesota were tear gassed at "point blank range."

"We identified ourselves as press and they fired tear gas canisters on us at point blank range, I got hit in the leg," she said in a video shared Twitter. "I was saying, ‘Where do we go? Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go. They didn’t direct us. They just fired on us."

She recounted her experience for the LA Times here.

Another reporter in Minnesota for the Star Tribune shared on Twitter that police shot rubber bullets through his car window, shattering the glass.

"I’m bleeding," Ryan Faircloth said in the video. "Cops just shot my window out, my passenger side window out. Glass shattered as I tried to quickly turn and get out of their way."

The new instances have raised alarm for press advocacy groups.

"It’s not enough to cover the protests via the official podiums of local police departments and politicians. Reporters need to be free to turn their cameras and microphones toward the local organizers who have long engaged in the fight for black dignity alongside those who are now taking to the streets with legitimate grievances against a system that devalues the lives of our people," Alicia Bell, the News Voices organizing manager at the advocacy group Free Press, said in a statement.

"Rather than allowing law enforcement to control the narrative and vilify black people, as has been the case too often in the past, journalists have the right to mingle among protesters to document and air their perspectives," Bell added.

She said this moment, however, also underscores the importance of building a relationship between newsrooms and communities.

The Save Journalism Project called the attacks "unconscionable."

"In reporting on protests of police violence against black Americans, reporters and journalists have become targets of violence themselves," cofounders Laura Bassett and John Stanton and spokesperson Nick Charles said in a joint statement.

"The acts of violence and injustice against reporters covering the fight for black lives against police brutality is unconscionable," the statement added. "It impedes the press’ ability to hold officials accountable and shed light on the fight for equality."

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