Freelance photojournalist permanently blinded, others assaulted during Minneapolis protests
At least eight journalists were assaulted while covering the fourth night of protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 29, 2020.
Multiple days of protests in Minneapolis and across the nation were sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
In the late afternoon, NBC and MSNBC reporter Micah Grimes tweeted that a law enforcement officer deliberately fired a canister of green powder at him, hitting his torso.
“I turned back to him, he taunted me like would shoot me again, twice. Clear cheap shot,” Grimes, who could not be reached for comment, wrote.
Associated Press photojournalist John Minchillo posted on Twitter that he was also struck by a less-lethal projectile while reporting that day, and said that police had fired indiscriminately.
“No distinctions were made… when I and my colleagues were hit by officers,” Minchillo wrote. “This is a protocol that I’ve not seen elsewhere.”
Minchillo could not be reached for comment.
Photojournalist Zach Roberts told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was reporting from Lake Street near the Midtown Light Rail Station at around 8:30 p.m. when he was pepper sprayed by Minneapolis police.
“I got nailed [with pepper spray] right in the face, and one eye was just gone, there was so much pain,” Roberts, who was freelancing, said. “A lot of protestors swarmed me and offered me water and milk.”
He said that police then started firing rubber bullets “the size of a child’s fist” into the crowd, and one barely missed his head. About fifteen minutes later, another ricocheted off a pillar and struck him in the leg, he told the Tracker.
“They were not aiming the way that you’re supposed to,” Roberts said, noting that police typically fire rubber rounds to ricochet off the ground into legs or at people’s chests. “They were aiming at head-level.”
About an hour later, Roberts was caught in a cloud of tear gas fired by Minnesota State Patrol troopers. He told the Tracker that he also felt targeted when the troopers began firing rubber bullets.
“I was hiding behind a bench trying to take photos and I had rubber bullets [coming at me]: I don’t know who they were aiming at other than me, because there was no one around me,” Roberts said.
Around that same time — but across town at the intersection of S. 4th Street and Hennepin Avenue — Des Moines Register Reporter Tyler Davis was documenting protesters confronting police who had set up barricades.
In an account published by USA Today, Davis wrote that once protesters began touching the barricades, officers in the parking lot began to retreat while spraying the crowd with what Davis identified as light-pressure water hoses.
Shortly after multiple squad cars and bicycle officers arrived at the scene, flash bangs and “chemical irritants” were deployed, Davis tweeted.
Davis wrote that as he attempted to document police pepper spraying two young women near him, the officer redirected the chemical spray toward him.
“He laid on the trigger for a few seconds as I told him I was a member of the media,” Davis wrote.
He said that as he walked north away from the scene, his eyes and face began intensely burning.
“I could hardly see,” Davis wrote.
“Ten hours later, my right arm still feels as if a sunburn is subsiding,” he wrote.
I was one of those hit by the eye irritant during the #GeorgeFloyd demonstration downtown. No fun at all. I’m done for the night after 10-plus hours. Follow @TrevorHughes and @Boydenphoto for more. See you all tomorrow, with a dry shirt and clean mask. https://t.co/Dsy4QzlSIh pic.twitter.com/lpNSiasXFb— Tyler Davis (@TDavisDMR) May 29, 2020
At approximately 11:30 p.m., reporters Nina Svanberg and Mikko Martinen were each struck by rubber bullets fired by law enforcement.
Svanberg, a reporter for the Swedish outlet Expressen, told the Committee to Protect Journalists that she and Norwegian photojournalist Thomas Nilssen had walked with protesters up from the Third Precinct to the Fifth Precinct. National Guard troops and police arrived to the area to disperse the crowd and enforce the 11 p.m. curfew in place that day.
The law enforcement officers then began indiscriminately firing less-lethal rounds and tear gas to disperse the crowd. One hit Svanberg on the hip and another ricocheted off the ground and into Martinen’s face, breaking his glasses.
“ All of a sudden, I feel a sudden pain in the leg, and I’m losing my balance and falling down,” Svanberg told CPJ.
She added that she crawled behind a car to avoid both being hit again, but was caught in the tear gas.
“The thing is, I think it was obvious that we were there working,” Svanberg said. “We were behaving like journalists and not demonstrators.”
Svanberg added that both she and Nilssen were wearing press passes, and he was carrying multiple large cameras.
Martinen, a reporter for Finnish outlet Ilta-Sanomat, told CPJ that while his glasses were broken by the projectile, they saved his eye.
“I only got a few scratches on my eyelid and around my eye,” Martinen said. “So I was pretty okay.”
The three European journalists eventually met up in a nearby alley where an Australian news team was sheltering with its security.
“We stood there for a while,” Svanberg said. “And then we just went from the corner and continued working.”
Freelance writer and photographer Linda Tirado told the Tracker that she was reporting near the Third Precinct around midnight that night when she was struck by a tracker round, judging from the green residue on her backpack.
A second round that she believes was a rubber bullet then struck the side of her head and her left eye.
“I got hit. My goggles broke, and I felt the blood and there was gas so I just closed my eyes, held up my hands and started yelling, ‘I’m press, I’m press!’” Tirado said.
Tirado said that a group of protestors took her to a nearby van and transported her to the hospital.
Tirado later tweeted that she is permanently blind in her left eye.
Just after 4 a.m., Minnesota National Guardsmen in riot gear and assault rifles threatened a news team for nonprofit media collective Unicorn Riot.
Jenn Schreiter told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker over text that she and her colleague Niko Georgiades were interviewing a local businessman when the guardsmen approached them and shouted, “Get inside or go to jail!”
“We hurried into the restaurant and one officer shoved me with his baton then slammed the door,” Schreiter said.
Clip from our stream earlier shows when Minnesota state police in riot gear & SWAT w assault rifles pushed UR off an empty street, threatening our reporters w arrest. At the time were were interviewing Louis Hunter about his restaurant, Trio Plant Based, which he's been guarding. pic.twitter.com/bSnnks4Vxg— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) May 30, 2020
Schrieter told the Tracker that both she and Georgiades have been reporting each night with their press badges visible and helmets branded with Unicorn Riot.
The journalists remained inside the restaurant until the National Guard had left the intersection of Lake and Lyndale.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.
This incident has been updated to reflect comment from Linda Tirado and Zach Roberts, and to include the assaults of Tyler Davis, John Minchillo, Nina Svanberg and Mikko Marttinen.
Freelance photojournalist Linda Tirado filed a lawsuit alleging excessive use of force and violations of her First Amendment rights after police struck her with a rubber bullet, permanently blinding her in one eye.
Tirado’s complaint, filed on June 10, 2020, names as defendants the City of Minneapolis, Police Officers Federation President Lt. Bob Kroll, police chief Medaria Arradondo, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer, as well as four John Does.
On May 29, Tirado was struck first with a tracking round and then multiple foam bullets while documenting the fourth night of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in police custody. According to the complaint, at least one struck her in the face, shattering her goggles and injuring her eye.
While Tirado called out that she was a member press and closed her eyes against the blood and tear gas, no law enforcement officers attempted to help her, the complaint says.
It also alleges that police may have been deliberately targeting members of the press, citing other journalists injured while covering the protests and a letter disparaging the press sent to officers by police union president Kroll.
Tirado told Courthouse News that the purpose of her suit was not only to gain compensation for her injury, but also to raise awareness and reinforce that the press should not fear police retaliation.
“My goal here is to ensure that this does not continue to happen, to bring attention to the fact that this has happened a lot around the country, that this happened in Minneapolis, and that it’s really not fair,” she said.
Tirado said in an interview on Welcome to Hell World that she is uninsured and is already facing $58,000 in medical bills resulting from her injury.