Arkansas Democrat-Gazette journalist detained while covering Little Rock protests

June 2, 2020

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette deputy online editor Josh Snyder was detained by police while covering protests in Little Rock on June 2, 2020.

Protests in Arkansas began four days earlier as demonstrations erupted across the country, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died when a white police officer kneeled on his neck for more than 8 minutes during an arrest.

Snyder was covering demonstrations in Little Rock on the evening of June 2 when he was caught up in a group of protesters detained by police on a pedestrian bridge, according to KATV. Police detained the group at around 10 p.m., two hours after a curfew went into effect.

Snyder was livestreaming the protests on the Democrat-Gazette’s Facebook page. In his video, a group of protesters can be seen being led by police to a pedestrian bridge, and Snyder identified himself as press to officers he passed. As they arrived, Snyder shouted out “press!” but no law-enforcement officers appeared to notice, and police ordered the group of protesters to the ground.

At one point in the video, Snyder takes a call from a colleague, telling them, “I think I’m being arrested.”

Several protesters are visible in the video around him, also on the ground. After more than 10 minutes, he can be heard identifying himself as a journalist to an officer.

“I just wanted to give a heads up, I’m press, I don’t know if anybody heard that during all the commotion,” he said.

The officer said that he would need to speak with a different officer. A short time later, after several other people can be seen being led away with their hands zip-tied behind his back, police appear in the video to let others in the group, including Snyder, disperse.

Snyder referred the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker to Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor Eliza Gaines for comment on the incident.

“I honestly think that the police did not hear him,” Gaines said, noting it was very loud.

Gaines said editors had verified with the city earlier in the day that reporters would be exempt from the curfew. Gaines said Snyder was carrying credentials and showed them to police after he had made his presence known.

In response to the incident, Gaines contacted the city the following day to establish a point of contact in case other reporters were detained. She said the city was “very responsive” and immediately gave a contact’s phone number for editors to call if it happened again.

Two other journalists, Paige Cushman and Kaitlin Barger of the local ABC affiliate KATV, also were detained on the bridge while they were streaming on Facebook Live.

Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler said in an emailed statement that the journalists were “embedded” with a group of protesters who police say were damaging public and private property, and didn’t notify police that they would be with the group. According to Sadler, police were told that at least one person among the protesters had a handgun.

Sadler said police became aware of the reporters after the group had been “cordoned off” and ordered to the ground.

“Only then were voices heard in the group…claiming to be news reporters,” he said. “Once the scene was secure, and guns were removed from two individuals, police did assist the reporters in being separated from the group as they requested.”

Gaines disputed Sadler’s characterization of Snyder as “embedded” with protesters. “He was covering the protests,” she said in an email.

In its report on the incident, KATV said the journalists “repeatedly identified themselves as reporters, showed their credentials and complied with officers' orders.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd and others while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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