Journalists in Dallas targeted by law enforcement with tear gas, foam projectiles

May 30, 2020

Dallas police shot foam projectiles and tear gas at a New York Times stringer and a state trooper rolled a can of tear gas at two Dallas Morning News reporters during protests in downtown Dallas on May 30, 2020.

The protests were sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, for 8 minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Marina Trahan Martinez was reporting on assignment for The New York Times wearing a black shirt emblazoned on the front and back with the word “PRESS” in white uppercase letters.

Trahan Martinez told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she was standing on a street corner at around 8 p.m. in downtown Dallas, filming demonstrators who were kneeling, when a group of two to three dozen police officers in riot gear approached.

When someone in the crowd lobbed a water bottle in the direction of the advancing officers, one of the officers issued a warning on his bullhorn to protesters: “Leave the area or you will be arrested.” Seconds later, the police sent canisters of tear gas into the crowd, causing protesters to scatter.

Trahan Martinez was filming the scene on her phone from a corner opposite the action, when the officers repeated their call to leave, this time in her direction. “I shouted, ‘I’m with the press. I’m media. I’m just working. I’m here doing my job,’” she recounted. When they responded with another command to clear the area, Trahan Martinez reiterated that she was a member of the press, in case they had not heard her.

“They screamed back, ‘It doesn’t matter,’” she said. Then they fired a canister of tear gas that landed a few feet behind her to her left.

“They started shooting at me,” she said, recounting that dark blue foam less-lethal projectiles fell at her feet. None of them hit her. Trahan Martinez walked away and took shelter in the patio of a closed restaurant until she was able to reach safety.

Trahan Martinez, who has worked as a reporter in Dallas for 20 years and has plenty of sources inside the Dallas Police Department, described the experience as a jarring one. “This particular unit did not care who I was or what I was doing there,” she said.

Reached by the Tracker, Warren Mitchell, a spokesman for the DPD, wrote in an email that it was “challenging” to provide comment about the incident without hearing the details from Trahan Martinez. Mitchell invited the reporter to make a complaint with the department.

Shortly after, in a nearby part of downtown, Dallas Morning News reporters Corbett Smith and Jesus Jiménez were documenting police efforts to clear out protesters outside of their newspaper’s office when a state trooper rolled a tear gas canister at them.

Smith said that the incident happened just after 8 p.m., when a state trooper, who was standing 20 to 25 yards away, made eye contact with Smith as the pair stood on South Harwood Street near the The Dallas Morning News headquarters.

“There's a state trooper who turns and looks right at me,” Smith said, “and pulled the pin on the gas.” The trooper rolled the canister toward Smith and Jiménez, but the canister “kind of skittered off to the west underneath a car that was 10 feet away.” The pair was able to quickly retreat, avoiding being enveloped by the gas.

There was no one standing between the journalists and the trooper at the time he rolled the canister at them, Smith said.

Both Smith and Jiménez said they were clearly identifiable as members of the media. “I feel like they could easily distinguish us as press,” Jiménez said. “We had our press passes on, our notebooks out and we were standing right in front of our office.”

“It was very clear who I was and what I was doing,” Smith said. “I never thought that I would have an officer do something like that.”

Smith identified the officer as a member of the Texas Department of Public Safety based on the shield he was carrying.

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson from the Texas Department of Public Safety wrote in an email that the department “does not have a record of any of our personnel deploying a gas canister in the area of the Dallas Morning News offices in Dallas on the evening of May 30, 2020.”

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 article was updated to reflect comment from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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

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