Like the rest of the country, I was stunned and in disbelief as I watched the television broadcasts and read the accounts about the attacks on journalists covering the protests over George Floyd, a black man, who died in police custody in Minneapolis, Minn. on May 25. From Los Angeles to New York City, journalists, along with protesters, were being arrested, hit with rubber bullets, pepper-sprayed and more. According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, as of the first week of June, there have been more than 400 incidents reported at national George Floyd protests.
One of the earlier incidents took place just four days after Floyd died when a CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his producer and photojournalist were arrested on live television by Minnesota police while covering the protests in downtown Minneapolis. Although they were released about an hour later, it was still unsettling to watch officers put handcuffs on the journalists, even after they clearly identified themselves as members of the press.
“Targeted attacks on journalists, media crews, and news organizations covering the demonstrations show a complete disregard for their critical role in documenting issues of public interest and are an unacceptable attempt to intimidate them,” Carlos Martínez de la Serna, program director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement condemning the attacks. “Authorities in cities across the U.S. need to instruct police not to target journalists and ensure they can report safely on the protests without fear of injury or retaliation.”
A joint statement between the News Media Alliance, America’s Newspapers and the National Newspaper Association read: “It is essential that law enforcement and government officials not only allow journalists to report on the historic events currently unfolding, but to provide journalists with the necessary protection in order to remain safe to do their jobs, as members of the press—the rights of which are guaranteed under the First Amendment. Local journalists are not only covering the protests as they are unfolding, but they are telling the stories behind these events, and they will be there in the months ahead to report on the aftermath and local repercussions.”
Many journalists reported that the hostility they experienced on the ground was something they had never encountered before. Some blamed President Trump’s harmful rhetoric against the press, calling them “fake news” and “enemies of the people.” It certainly did not help when he called them the “lamestream media” on Twitter right at the height of protest coverage.
“I’ve been covering conflict both nationally and internationally for many years, so I know the dangers involved in these situations, especially when you get between riot police and protesters,” Carolyn Cole, a Los Angeles Times photographer covering the protests in Minnepolis, told the New York Times, “but I wasn’t expecting them to attack us directly.” Cole was pepper-sprayed in her left ear and eye, and her cornea was damaged.
Michael Anthony Adams, a correspondent at Vice News, also described to the New York Times how he was thrown to the ground and sprayed with what he thought was pepper spray by officers, even after identifying himself as a reporter.
“That’s something that I would expect in Turkey,” he said, referring to an incident where he was tackled by police officers while on assignment there. “But in America, I wouldn’t have expected this.”
It’s true; we have seen injustice and discrimination against journalists in other countries, where many of them are persecuted, sentenced to jail, and even killed for simply doing their jobs. Now, instead out looking outward, we’re looking inward—and we aren’t liking what we are seeing.