U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Detroit police officer aims weapon at Free Press journalist

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020
Detroit, Michigan


Was the journalist targeted?
May 30, 2020

Two journalists who’d been reporting for the Detroit Free Press had weapons brandished at them by law enforcement officials while covering protests in the city on May 30, 2020, they told the Committee to Protect Journalists.

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

Detroit Free Press reporter Branden Hunter, who’s no longer with the newspaper, told CPJ in an interview that he’d been reporting on May 30 with a group of Free Press reporters. At about 11:30 p.m., as he was standing near a handful of his colleagues and trying to see through a haze of tear gas, a police officer approached him with a rubber bullet gun and told him to leave, according to a tweet from Hunter’s twitter account and his interview with CPJ. CPJ is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

“I put my press pass up and immediately stopped what I was doing,” Hunter told CPJ.

Hunter, who is Black, said he felt the officer was “100 percent” going after him because of his race.

In a Facebook Live hosted by the International Center for Journalists on June 5, Hunter said he’d been wearing streetwear that evening, including a Black Panther jacket, and that, aside from his press badge, he “fit the description of the protesters.”

According to both Hunter and a video of the incident on his Twitter account that was viewed by CPJ, a tear gas canister rolled toward the journalists from another direction immediately after the officer had stepped away from him.

M.L. Elrick, who’d also been reporting that evening with a group of Free Press journalists, also had an officer aim a crowd-control weapon at him later that night. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented his assault here.

The Free Press did not respond to an email requesting comment as of press time.

When contacted by CPJ, the Detroit Police Department’s voicemail box was full. The department did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment as of press time.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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