A journalist for the Washington Examiner said police shoved and hit him with pepper spray as he covered protests against police violence in Washington, D.C., on June 1, 2020.
Mike Brest, a reporter for the conservative news site and weekly magazine, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was following a group of protesters that evening as they marched from the White House down Lafayette Parkway into the northwest section of the city.
Metropolitan Police officers were enforcing a 7 p.m. curfew. At about 8 p.m., Brest and the group of protesters he followed reached the block of Swann Street between 14th and 15th Streets.
Police lines formed on both ends of the block, which is lined on both sides by townhouses — a maneuver known as “kettling” in which officers corral protesters and often make mass arrests. Journalists have reported that police in New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other cities have employed the maneuver.
Brest said he was near one of the police lines on Swann Street when he was shoved by an officer and pepper spray was fired at the crowd. He said he was hit by the spray after verbally identifying himself as a journalist and while carrying a bag bearing the word “PRESS.”
Brest said he was able to keep working after getting sprayed and remained at the scene for several hours more. “It was just hard to see for a short period of time afterwards,” Brest told the Tracker.
He said he didn’t believe law-enforcement officials targeted him as a journalist. Approximately 200 protesters had gathered on Swann Street after the curfew, but the scene was peaceful when police mobilized, Brest said.
“I didn’t see anything that would have warranted such a reaction,” Brest said.
He said he wasn’t sure which law enforcement agency deployed the pepper spray -- some officers at the scene were identifiable as clearly from the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia, while others were dressed in unmarked camouflage fatigues and riot gear that obscured their faces.
Brest said he and protesters were kettled so tightly on the Swann Street block that he was concerned about transmission of COVID-19.
“It should be noted that there are probably 200 protesters crammed into a half block of a D.C. street and probably another 75 law enforcement [officers] all close together,” Brest tweeted from the scene. “No social distancing possible.”
Brest told the Tracker that he and most protesters at the scene wore masks.
“Considering COVID, that seemed like a very dangerous thing for law enforcement to do,” the journalist said. “They held people in this one block radius for between an hour or two hours before any arrests were made.”
Brest said he stayed in the area until around midnight. An officer led Brest to a supervisor who told the journalist he had to leave the area. He was escorted from the scene and wasn’t arrested.
The Metropolitan Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Brest and other journalists reported that Rahul Dubey, a 44-year-old homeowner living on the block, opened his doors to offer refuge to protesters crowded in front of his home — a scene that Dubey described as a “human tsunami” to a Washington Post reporter.
The DCist reported that Dubey opened his home to at least 50 protesters, who stayed inside until the curfew lifted at 6 a.m. on June 2.
Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the country after a viral video showed a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.
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.