Free Press reporter J.C. Reindl said he was pepper-sprayed by law enforcement while covering protests in downtown Detroit, Michigan, on May 30, 2020.
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.
Reindl told the Committee to Protect Journalists — a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — that on May 30, the protests had shifted in tone from when he’d begun reporting earlier in the afternoon. At around 10:30 p.m., Reindl said he was “trying to get closer to the action” for a tweet to document the escalating scene before he was sprayed.
“[An officer] began to pepper-spray some of the demonstrators and I began trying to photograph this because I was surprised. The protesters ran away and I kind of thought, I’m so far away there’s no way he’s going to come after me,” Reindl told CPJ. “Then [the officer] started coming at me and I held up my press badge and still had the phone going. I naively thought that I’m so far away he’s definitely not going to pepper-spray me, but he did.”
Reindl, who was wearing contact lenses and a cloth mask at the time of the incident, left the protests after being sprayed, but decided not to seek medical attention. Reindl also told CPJ that he did not file a police complaint because “[he] did not want to be a little whiner.”
After the incident, Reindl tweeted, “Last thing I saw before I got sprayed. I was even holding up ‘media’ badge." The accompanying image shows a law enforcement official in a gas mask. In the shadow he casts on the pavement below, a canister and line of spray can also be seen aimed in the direction of another shadow, presumably that cast by Reindl.
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 being 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.