Commercial Appeal journalist pushed by Memphis police officer at protest

June 1, 2020

Reporter Katherine Burgess of the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, Tennessee, was pushed by a police officer with a riot shield while covering a Black Lives Matter protest at Memphis City Hall on North Main Street on June 1, 2020.

The protest, in response to the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, began in the daylight hours of May 31 at the National Civil Rights museum. In a long-running thread on Twitter, Burgess posted video and text showing the movement of the protesters and occasional confrontations with Memphis police.

In the footage Burgess posted to her personal Twitter account, a Memphis police officer is seen pushing Burgess back with a riot shield near City Hall. One of the officers tells Burgess to “back up” a few times, as she attempts to document arrests of protesters in an area closed off by police. In the video, she says several times that she is “media” and asks “Why are you pushing me away from the scene?” More than a dozen officers can be seen, most with riot gear and a few holding billy clubs.

“After I was pushed with riot shields and told to "go home" by police officers when trying to film several arrests, then followed in an intimidating fashion up the mall outside City Hall,” Burgess told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Moments after the incident, Burgess said she called the Commercial Appeal’s executive editor, Mark Russell, to share her experience. According to Burgess, Russell expressed his disappointment with how officers treated his staff. In a call with the Tracker, Russell said he sent a letter to Memphis Police and city and county officials, saying that Burgess was “just doing her job” when she was pushed. Russell noted that since that communication, his staff has not had any issues with local law enforcement.

Memphis Police, Tennessee State Highway Patrol and the Shelby County’s Sheriff Office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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