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Visualizing Police Violence Against Journalists At Protests Across The U.S

June 5, 2020

By Charlotte Godart

Update (July 3, 2020) -Since publishing this article on June 5, 2020, we have teamed up with Forensic Architecture to map these incidents on their platform. Today, Forensic Architecture has published that map. The map allows for navigation of the events in, time, and by category of event (i.e., “physical assault”, “pepper spray”, etc.).

Together with a team of volunteers, we are also working to map hundreds of other instances of police violence, this time targeting demonstrators and bystanders during the May and June 2020 protests. As part of this larger project, Forensic Architecture has created a submission platform that will allow users to securely submit footage of police violence against protesters and bystanders.


After watching the gruesome killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin — the officer who put his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost 9 minutes — the United States has broken out in a rage. Protestors are filling the streets night after night, declaring “No Justice, No Peace” and reminding everyone that “Black Lives Matter.” 

These protests have escalated into violence in many cities across the United States while police and local officials crack down and instate curfews. As demonstrators protest the use of violence by police officers, they experience that violence themselves, being subject to tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, batons, and physical assault. 

The strongest voice and protector of our collective human rights in today’s digital world is video evidence of injustices. This content has the potential to spark action and reveal facts, as seen most recently in the case of George Floyd himself. 

Often, this content comes to light after being captured by those who risk injury or worse to report on these contentious events. Journalists are specially trained to report on events and willing to share their identity with the public while doing so. They are invaluable in times of crisis for capturing events impartially and accurately. This is why the United States ostensibly has freedom of the press, protected by the First Amendment. In practical terms, freedom of press should allow journalists to be unafraid to do their jobs, expecting that they should be protected to document and report. Unfortunately, these protests are demonstrating that this expectation is far from the truth. 

We began noticing violence against reporters at the protests popping up on social media in the United States and started posting the instances we saw on a Twitter thread. This involved collecting videos and images of reports of arrests, violence, and intimidation against journalists across the country. 

We also reached out to some journalists and collected additional information when needed. The Twitter thread has now amassed over 140 separate incidents of police violence and other violations against journalists (and counting). The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is also working on tracking incidents here.

While there has separately been violence against journalists by other protesters, this research focuses on the violence committed by members of police forces. This is due to the principle that police forces should be aware of press freedom at protests and how to protect it. If anything, police should be the ones protecting journalists from other violence that they may encounter during a protest. 

We compiled the data we collected into a spreadsheet and plotted each of the incidents using geolocation. We compared the streets, buildings, and specific details in the videos and images until we were able to find, in most instances, the exact spots where these journalists and reporters were standing when they were detained, pepper sprayed, shot with less lethal rounds, or physically assaulted by the police.

This data is publicly available and includes additional research from The Guardian. Aside from location and description, it also tracks whether or not the journalists were identifiable as press, any additional details, and what police force was involved with each incident.

We plotted all of this data onto an interactive map. You can use this map to visualize where these incidents happened in space and time, and notice some areas where multiple instances happened over the course of a protest. This indicates these were not “one time incidents” or accidents due to journalists getting in the way. There is evidence here of systematic and conscious repression of the press at these protests, in cities all across the country — and the data that has been collected is the proof.


The full map of the incidents that we plotted can be seen here.

In total, we have archived 140 incidents involving at least 157 journalists and we will be continuing to track and locate these incidents for as long as they continue to happen, updating our map periodically. To give you perspective on just how enormous this number really is, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker tracked 150 press freedom violations for the whole of 2019. The incidents in these protests have almost surpassed the 2019 numbers in a week. 

 

With thanks to Nick Waters, Giancarlo Fiorella, Annique Mossou, and Jake Godin for research and collection, and Derek Taylor for his GIS expertise. 

Charlotte Godart

Charlotte Godart is an investigator and trainer for Bellingcat. Before working at Bellingcat, she was a researcher and team manager at the Investigations Lab within the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley, her alma mater. During that time, she taught other students how to conduct open source investigations for a number of different clients (humanitarian, legal, and governmental).

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22 Comments

  1. Ben Merryman

    The work you all do is amazing! We need to improve these systems and exposing the issues is the only place to start. Cheers and stay safe – Ben Merryman, Kalamazoo, Michigan – Friday, 2020-06-05, 13:50 ET

    Reply
  2. Sean_Lamb

    “After watching the gruesome killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin”

    Shouldn’t that be “at the legs of Derek Chauvin”? His hands didn’t seem to have much to do with it.

    Actually, though, I am an old fashioned guy and still believe in that presumption of innocence we used to talk about in the last millennium.

    A quick look at the autopsy report does seem to suggest that Derek Chauvin mightn’t have had much to do with it – although I don’t rate his chances at trial.

    Mr Floyd was, after all, loudly complaining he couldn’t breath well before Chauvin entered the picture.

    Reply
    • Richard

      Troll alert.
      Your quick look was with eyes closed. Just like your other comments on Syrien sarin bombs. Are you also a 911 truther as well? It would fit a pattern.

      Reply
      • M

        And when you watched this recording of GF detention, with your eyes wide open, you saw (without any doubt) the intention of the police to kill G Floyd???
        It was rather for the abuse of public official’s power which, unfortunately, led to the death of the detained person

        Reply
      • Sean_Lamb

        Richard, my motto is never get in the way of an online lynch mob in the performance of its duty. So I look forward to you pointing out what I have missed
        https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6936176-Autopsy-2020-3700-Floyd.html

        “III. No life-threatening injuries identified
        …..

        B. No injuries of anterior muscles of neck or laryngeal
        structures”

        The strongest evidence implicating Chauvin seems to be the fact George Floyd was saying “I can’t breath” while he was on the ground. But since he was saying that when he was upright I am not sure how we can be certain Chauvin’s knee was the cause of this.

        The poor sod is facing 40 years in prison over this, so you would hope it would be decided on some basis other than that it makes everyone feel good about themselves

        Reply
        • clay

          Page 9 : “The pulmonary parenchyma is diffusely congested and edematous” = Adult Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

          Reply
  3. Joan Taylor

    Excellent work.
    Fuck the trolls.
    Thank you for keeping our eyes wide open.
    Love the Map.
    How bright and wonderful you and your team is!
    Merci!!

    Reply
  4. Joan Taylor

    Uh…. what I meant was ,
    “You and your team are.“
    Correct grammar is a must, even in times of protest and social injustice.

    Reply
  5. Barry Burton

    Damn! I thought you guys were a real source of journalism. This is just another piece of tabloid crap. No desire to give the viewer any room to see for themselves. Just the same old quick cuts, obtuse angles and a narrative that has a singular objective. The only real question answered here is what bellingcat is really about. Oh well, the search for journalistic integrity goes on.

    Reply
  6. Heather

    Racism and hatred are the true American cancers that eat away at any progress we may make as a nation. When I was in my early twenties, I happened upon a murder about to take place. I tried to get the young mans attention, hoping to break the spell of hateful determination he was under, but I couldn’t. I witnessed the blind hatred in his eyes. The same expression in Chauvins eyes, as he callously snuffed the life from a fellow human being. Unforgivable.

    Reply
  7. James Charles

    Criminologist and attorney Brian Levin is a professor of criminal justice and Director of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. Speaking on Al Jazeera news, he emphasised, what he says is, the ‘story behind the story’. He says that most of the protesters are non violent. A smaller number of interlopers, looters and extremists from different sides are exploiting this.
    The violence damages race relations.

    “Mac Donald: Statistics Do Not Support The Claim Of ‘Systemic Police Racism’ . . .
    A solid body of evidence finds no structural bias in the criminal-justice system with regard to arrests, prosecution or sentencing, Mac Donald writes; rather, crime and suspect behavior, not race, determine most police actions.”
    https://www.dailywire.com/news/mac-donald-statistics-do-not-support-the-claim-of-systemic-police-racism

    Reply
  8. Jeroen

    Excellent work here. It should be done in every country where police violence and brutality is acted against its citizens.

    Reply
      • Sean Lamb

        I think we can all agree on that Jeroen.

        Even emotionally deficient cynics like myself, many thousands of miles from where George Floyd’s presence blessed the earth, feel I have been touched by something special.

        These people find the words that I unable to

        Reply
        • Amused

          Jeroen started his entry with a quotation and wanted to add some wise phrase but he collapsed and lost consciousness.
          I don’t believe that Minion believes in such a truism as: George F changed the world

          Reply
      • Atacama

        No he did not change the world.
        He changed attitudes and his death raised awareness yet again of the racism that has existed in our world for centuries.
        He did not eradicate hate speech, prejudice or racism and never will. Unfortunately.

        It’s going to take much more than this to change our world and that is the sad truth.

        Reply
  9. clay

    Page 9 : “The pulmonary parenchyma is diffusely congested and edematous” = Adult Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS)

    Reply

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