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US Law Enforcement Are Deliberately Targeting Journalists During George Floyd Protests

May 31, 2020

By Nick Waters

Translations: Русский

Bellingcat has identified and collected multiple instances of US law enforcement deliberately targeting journalists during the protests against the killing of George Floyd.

The arrest of a CNN crew in Minneapolis while broadcasting live on air on May 29th was a shocking event, especially in a country with such strong protections on freedom of speech. However as of the time of writing we have identified at least 50 separate incidents where journalists have been attacked by law enforcement.

In these examples journalists have been shot with rubber bullets, targeted with stun grenades, tear gassed, physically attacked, pepper sprayed and arrested.

Although in some incidents it is possible the journalists were hit or affected accidentally, in the majority of the cases we have recorded the journalists are clearly identifiable as press, and it is clear that they are being deliberately targeted. This pattern of violence against journalists is replicated in several cities, but appears most intense in Minneapolis.

A selection of these incidents can be found below. 

Incident 1, May 29: CNN crew arrested in Minneapolis

In the most famous example of violence against the press so far during these protests, a CNN film crew were arrested as they broadcast live on air. There was no legitimate reason for their arrest and they were released about an hour later.

Incident 2, May 29: Wave 3 news crew deliberately targeted with rubber bullets in Louisville, Kentucky

Yet again, a news crew from NBC affiliate Wave 3 broadcasting live on air were deliberately targeted by police firing rubber bullets from a range of a few meters. This crew were very clearly journalists.

Incident 6, May 30: Swedish and Norwegian journalists targeted with rubber bullets in Minneapolis

Injury sustained by Nina Svanberg

Swedish and Norwegian journalists who were clearly identifiable as journalists were targeted and hit by rubber bullets. One of the journalists stated:

“I wore two cameras, a press card around my neck, and a helmet and a gas mask. We took pictures and behaved in a different way to the protesters”

Incident 8, May 30: photo-journalist blinded in left eye by less lethal round in Minneapolis

Photo-journalist Linda Tirado was hit in the left eye by a less lethal round while covering events in Minneapolis. She later found out she had been permanently blinded.

Incident 11, May 30: CBS news crew targeted by rubber bullets in Minneapolis

Video posted by Michael George.

A CBS news crew, who were clearly identifiable as journalists, were targeted by rubber bullets. Their sound engineer was hit.

Incident 12, May 30: group of journalists targeted by less lethal rounds by Minnesota state patrol in Minneapolis

A group of a dozen or so journalists were targeted at close range despite identifying themselves as journalists, as described in the video above. Molly Hennessy-Fiske was struck on the leg by a less lethal round.

Injuries sustained by Molly Hennessy-Fiske


Incident 13, May 30: journalist pepper sprayed in the face while being physically detained by police in Minneapolis

Despite clearly identifying himself as press and holding his press card up throughout the incident, Michael Adams was physically detained on the ground and then pepper sprayed.

Incident 14, May 30: Australian News crew detained, handcuffed and searched before being released in Minneapolis

Tim Arvier and his crew as they were being detained.

Tim Arvier, a journalist working for 9 News Australia was detained and searched by Minneapolis police. They were then released.

Incident 18, May 30: journalists rushed and arrested by NYPD in New York

Tweet from Huffington Post

Journalist Christopher Mathias at the Huffington Post was arrested by the NYPD in New York. As reported by Phoebe Barghouty, he was credentialed and complying. His press pass appears to be clearly visible around his neck.

Arrest of Christopher Mathias as photographed by Phoebe Leila Barghouty

Incident 20, May 30: MSNBC film crew targeted with less lethal rounds

Despite clearly being identifiable as journalists, Ali Velshi and his crew were targeted and hit by less lethal rounds.

Conclusion

This selection of incidents demonstrates that law enforcement across multiple cities, but especially in Minneapolis, are knowingly and deliberately targeting journalists with less lethal munitions, arrests and other forms of violence.

This is a selection of the most egregious examples of violence against journalists. Many others can be seen in this thread by the author. Even as this article is being written multiple incidents of similar behaviour are being sent to us. If you have seen law enforcement deliberately targeting journalists, or experienced it yourself, please contact the author through his Twitter or at nick[@]bellingcat.com.

Considering the role of journalists to keep society informed about current events, as well as the strong constitutional protections of a free press in the United States, these actions by law enforcement represent an attack on the freedom of the press.

Journalists should be free to do their jobs without fear of violence or arrest, wherever it may be.

This article has been updated to reflect the number of incidents collected. 

Nick Waters

Nick is an ex-British Army officer and open source analyst. He has a special interest in the conflicts in Syria, as well as social media, civil society, intelligence and security. Contact via Twitter: @N_Waters89

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73 Comments

  1. John

    Physical violence against the press is not acceptable in any way, shape or form. The videos show the press were injured by the acts of police. Now we’ve got those two points out of the way, let’s proceed:

    I’m not sure this article is up to the editorial standards or investigative rigour that we’ve come to expect from Bellingcat.

    If an act is deliberate, it implies intent. Intent is notoriously difficult to establish, even through inference — ask any criminal lawyer. Further, there are many layers of intent.

    This article does not provide a robust evidential basis for attributing intent. It would have been better had Bellingcat focused on a handful of incidents and provided detailed analysis as they do in other investigations — corroboration of multiple sources, background and context in the lead up to the incident, establishing timeline, geolocating, frame by frame, etc.

    If this had been done, it would allow a basis on which to infer intent of the police.

    Reply
    • Tor

      What the hell are you talking about? Did you not just witness police attacking and arresting people who were clearly identifying themselves as press and waving their press cards? The CNN crew had their press cards around their neck and were carrying a camera and micrphone. They clearly identified themselves as press multiple times. The Huffington post reporter likewise carried his press card around his neck but was still arrested. The Wave 3 reporters were shot from close range while carrying a clearly visible camera and microphone. The Vice News guy got maced in the face for saying he was press, while holding up his press card. Seriously, what does it take to establish intent in your view?

      Reply
      • Tony Goldman

        Replying to someone’s critical answer is far better if done in the dispassionate tone that is exemplified by your excellent reports which have broken new grounds in many ways. Please do not use terms like “What the hell are you talking about” to critics who raise legitimate issues.

        Reply
        • FirstPlebian

          That commenter was shilling for the Police, there is no doubt they were deliberately targeting journalists in anyone’s mind, whether they are honest about that is another story. Shilling for people that violate the Bill of Rights for this Administration is an act that truly deserves Hell, if you believe in that sort of thing, so the comment is justified.

          Reply
          • Douglas

            You don’t really seem very detached from this issue. one may even call you a partisan. As such, you’re not credible.

          • Andrew

            Being attached to the issue does not affect his credibility. A victim may speak on their points with full credibility. Attempts at trivializing through obfuscations of a partisan accusation makes you not credible.

    • Douglas

      John, complete agree with what you’re saying here. This article is not what I’ve come to expect from Bellingcat. Looks like something I’d find in HuffPo.

      Reply
  2. Dionysus

    Quick note, because the wording seems interchanged based on how much damage they did on each incident, but the “less lethal rounds”, mentioned in the cases of dystopian treatment with horrific injuries, are the same rubber bullets mentioned in the cases of dystopian treatment but with non-horrific injuries.

    Reply
    • FirstPlebian

      Less lethal rounds are not limited to rubber bullets. Denver Police were using wooden bullets on protesters. They also have baton launchers, sort of like a shotgun that shoots a broom handle sort of thing. Then the juiced up paintball guns, which I believe use Nitrogen instead of CO2 as it packs much more of a punch. Tear Gas can be lethal to some as well, even pepper spray, to people with Asthma and the like.

      Reply
  3. Barry

    I look forward to any followup reports on disciplinary action by police departments and/or legal actions by free press NGOs regarding officers’ attacks on reporters and news crews, because I am surely not finding any such reports on my own.

    Reply
  4. Don

    There are NO George Floyd Protests!!! This is all about the
    “Sunrise Movement”, and these Protests were planned back in 2018; George Floyd’s death just started the “Sunrise Movement Protests”!!!

    Reply
  5. Douglas

    The press have no speech protections beyond that of any other citizen of the United States. The 1st Amendment applies to all, equally. When crowds are told to disperse, they must do so. Press identification is not a special pass to be inside these areas. If someone’s there, they may get hit by a rubber bullet.

    Reply

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