Detroit Metro Times journalist assaulted while covering civil unrest

June 2, 2020

On the evening of June 2, 2020, Detroit police assaulted Steve Neavling, a journalist with the Detroit Metro Times who was covering protests against police violence, Neavling told the Committee to Protect Journalists in a phone interview.

Neavling told CPJ that he and other reporters were watching a group of about 150 peaceful protesters along Gratiot Avenue on Detroit's east side when police surrounded the protesters and moved in on them. The journalist said that he was filming the scene when a police officer grabbed him and threw him to the ground.

“I yelled ‘I’m with the media!’ and [the officer] immediately threw me down, swatted my phone out of my hand and, intentionally or not, ripped the glasses off of my face and they were broken,” Neavling said. “My camera lens was broken during the fall and every time I [said] ‘media,’ I got kicked, punched and elbowed by the same officer,” Neavling told CPJ, adding that his accreditation was visible.

Neavling said the officer warned him he would be arrested. Neavling said he then heard another voice saying Neavling should be let go.

“I started walking away without my glasses. I couldn’t see and [the assaulting police officer] kept yelling ‘Get the fuck out of here,’” Neavling said.

The journalist, who said he is unable to see clearly further than two feet without his glasses, heard someone say that the police chief was nearby. Neavling said he approached the chief, told him what happened and was told by the chief to speak with the police internal affairs unit.

Neavling said he called the communications point person for Detroit police, who put him in touch with the internal affairs department. An officer in internal affairs was dismissive of Neavling’s complaints and said police had thousands of cases to work through, the journalist told CPJ. Neavling told CPJ in an email on October 13 that he filed a complaint the night of the assault, but four months later had not heard back.

Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood from the Detroit Police Deparment’s media relations team did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment.

Neavling said that due to COVID-related restrictions he had to wait a week before he could get a new pair of glasses, during which time he was unable to work because he could not see well without his glasses. He also said that he sustained bruises and small scrapes on his right elbow and right shoulder.

The protests in Detroit that day were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during a May 25 arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 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.

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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