Commonwealth Times editor detained while covering Richmond protest

July 25, 2020

Eduardo Acevedo, news editor for The Commonwealth Times, an independent newspaper run by Virginia Commonwealth University students, said he was detained by police while covering a protest in Richmond, Virginia, the night of July 25, 2020.

Protests against racial inequality and police brutality were held in Richmond throughout the summer in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people at the hands of police.

Acevedo told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and two colleagues from the Commonwealth Times were covering a protest outside of the Richmond Police Headquarters, where police had formed a riot shield wall and declared the demonstration an “unlawful assembly.” According to Acevedo, someone in the crowd threw a flaming object into a Humvee that had been parked to block protesters. Acevedo said police responded by firing tear gas and flash-bang grenade canisters.

At that point, Acevedo said, he became separated from his Commonwealth Times colleagues. He said he was disoriented and “running blind” because of the tear gas. A journalist from another Virginia paper, Sabrina Moreno of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, helped him around the corner of a building and began pouring milk in his eyes to help him recover from the gas, he said.

Acevedo said a group of at least five police officers came around the corner of the building and suddenly moved in to restrain the two journalists. Video posted on Twitter by activist Jimmie Lee Jarvis shows officers swarm Acevedo and Moreno while they can be heard screaming, “We’re press.” Officers pushed Acevedo face down on the ground, despite his shouts identifying himself as a journalist. Moreno's detainment is documented here.

After he had shouted his identity at least a dozen times, the officers released Acevedo, the journalist said. When Acevedo stood up, he said he was feeling claustrophobic from the lingering effects of the tear gas and the officers in riot gear crowded around him, so he asked an officer to give him some more space. The officer responded “no” close to his face, he said.

Police let Acevedo go after he showed them his press badge identifying him with his photo as working with The Commonwealth Times, he said. Acevedo said he was released less than 10 minutes after police first restrained him.

Acevedo said he has not communicated with the Richmond Police Department about the incident. However, his experience was one of several incidents referenced in a Sept. 1, 2020 letter to Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the chief of the Richmond Police Department from the Student Press Law Center and other press freedom groups raising concerns about police treatment of journalists during protests.

In an email responding to the Tracker’s request for comment, a police spokesperson wrote: “The Richmond Police Department has a long history working with our media partners and will continue to do so, with the common goal of public safety in mind.” The spokesperson asked if Acevedo had filed a complaint; told that he had not, the spokesperson said a formal complaint would have given police more details about the incident, but that in general, members of the media are not exempt from a declaration of unlawful assembly.

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 these protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

This article has been updated to include the identity of the second journalist detained.

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

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