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Despite identifying as press, multiple journalists shot at with projectiles by Minneapolis law enforcement

May 30, 2020

While covering the fifth night of protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, multiple journalists reported being targeted and shot at with projectiles by law enforcement officers after the city’s 8 p.m. curfew went into effect on May 30, 2020.

Journalists were specifically exempt from the curfew by Gov. Tim Walz’s order.

The curfew was a response to protests that followed a video of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

Shortly after 8:30 p.m. in Minneapolis, officers fired foam rounds at three Swiss journalists after they held up their press passes and yelled that they were members of the media.

Massimiliano Herber, the Washington-based television correspondent for RSI (Radiotelevisione svizzera), an Italian-language channel of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, told the Tracker in an interview that he and videographer Jean-Pascal Azaïs had been reporting on protests downtown with Gaspard Kühn, a Washington-based correspondent for RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse), the public broadcaster’s French-language channel. Neither Azaïs nor Kühn could be reached for comment.

Police had begun to throw tear gas and shoot foam rounds at protesters, according to Herber. Some of the tear gas wafted toward the Swiss journalists, stinging their eyes.

As the journalists attempted to reach their car, he said, they found police lines on either end of the block, preventing them from moving.

Standing in the middle of the road, the journalists held up their press passes issued by the U.S. Congress and shouted, “Media! Media! Press!” toward the police and asked if they could pass by to reach their car. Azaïs was holding a small video camera. They had taken a couple steps forward, Herber said, when the officers told them to “back up”. The officers then began to shoot at the journalists, firing off four or five foam rounds, all of which missed the journalists, Herber said.

They were able to flee to the safety of a nearby parking lot, but when they tried to move, the officers again opened fire, firing two to three foam rounds, Herber said. Eventually, with the help of a local resident, they found a safe route back to their car.

The officers in the area were from the Minneapolis Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol, Herber said, but he was not sure who fired the rounds.

The broadcaster filed a complaint about the matter with the U.S. Embassy in Switzerland on June 1, Herber said.

A few hours later, at around 11 p.m. near the Fifth Precinct, freelance photojournalist Adam Bettcher said State Patrol troopers fired foam rounds at him.

Bettcher, who was on assignment for Reuters, told the Tracker that he was holding up his press credentials and shining a flashlight at himself as he approached a police line, yelling out, “I’m press! I’m press.” Bettcher said he was wearing body armor and a denim shirt that had an embroidered patch that said “PRESS” on his chest. He said he told the troopers he was trying to reach his car and they yelled at him to “go home!”

Bettcher replied that he was trying to get home and asked them how he could reach his car, and they shouted at him to use Google Maps, he recounted. Seconds later, one of the officers fired a projectile that whizzed by his head, he said. “I heard it hit the wall behind me,” he said. At this, he left the area. “I didn’t go back to see what they shot at me, but it was a foam baton round from the sound of it.”

Requests for comment on these incidents sent to the Minnesota State Patrol and the Minneapolis Police Department were not returned.

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. 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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