Journalist covering Kenosha protest hit with tear gas canister

August 24, 2020

During an Aug. 24 clash between law enforcement and protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin, officers fired a tear gas canister at two journalists who say they were standing several feet away from any protesters. One of the journalists, Jesus J. Montero, said the canister hit him on his right arm, and that he experienced itching and difficulty breathing but did not require medical care.

Montero, an independent reporter who was covering the protest on his social media, and Maria Guerrero, from the Chicago-based DePaul University newspaper The DePaulia, were outside the Kenosha County Courthouse as protestors defied an 8 p.m. curfew. According to the journalists, police and sheriff’s deputies warned demonstrators that they would use tear gas if the crowd didn’t leave. When demonstrators and press remained, police moved to break up the crowd, according to Guerrero, who tweeted a video of the scene. The journalists said they were about six feet away from the demonstrators and opposite the line of police, when police fired a tear gas canister that hit Montero in his right arm, causing him itching and difficulty breathing for some hours. Guerrero said she was able to run away from the gas without suffering any difficulties.

Both journalists say they were wearing press credentials at the time. Montero told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he does not believe he was targeted as a member of the press. He said that as he was in the area not far from demonstrators, officers may have had trouble clearly distinguishing journalists from protesters. Aug. 24 was the second day of protests in Kenosha.

“As the weeks went on police had a better understanding that this is the press,” Montero told the Tracker. But when protests first began, he said, “there was no regard to who you were affiliated with.”

However, Guerrero, who is also managing editor of La DePaulia, the Spanish-speaking sister newspaper of The DePaulia, said she believes that she and Montero were deliberately targeted as journalists. “I try my best to stand out from demonstrators,” she said, explaining that on that night she felt she was clearly identifiable as press because she wore goggles and press credentials and carried a professional camera. “As press we’re just there to tell a story and to tell what’s going on,” she told the Tracker.”

Protests in Kenosha were ignited on Aug. 23 by the killing of Jacob Blake, a Black man who was shot seven times by a white police officer in front of his children. While many demonstrations were peaceful, some escalated into violence with some buildings being vandalized and set on fire. The evening after Montero was struck by the tear gas canister, two protesters were killed and a third was injured when civilians armed with assault rifles and guns also took to the streets claiming their intention was to protect private property. A 17-year-old was accused of the killings.

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

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