Journalists hit with ‘less lethal’ rounds during second day of Minnesota protests
Two journalists were shot with crowd control ammunition, or less lethal rounds fired by police, at different times of the day in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 27, 2020.
Police were attempting to reign in a second day of protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man. Floyd died at a hospital on May 25, after an officer knelt on his neck during an arrest, ignoring Floyd's repeated exclamations that he could not breathe. A video of the arrest sparked widespread outrage, and protests began the following day in Minneapolis.
On May 26, thousands of protestors gathered outside the convenience store where Floyd had been detained and at the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct. That afternoon and evening, police clad in riot gear fired tear gas, flash bangs and less lethal rounds into the crowd, and some demonstrators built barricades and set fires. At least two journalists were also hit with crowd control ammunition that evening.
Protesters took to streets again the following day.
Freelance journalist Jared Goyette began tweeting at 7 p.m. about a young protester who had been hit in the side of the head by a crowd control round by police. He continued tweeting as other demonstrators attempted to carry the man to safety and eventually loaded him into a car to be taken to the hospital.
Ten minutes later, Goyette tweeted that he had been struck in the eye and then tear gassed.
Goyette, who was not immediately available for comment, posted that people had rushed to help him bandage his eye and helped him to safety when a cloud of tear gas came upon them.
“I wasn’t trying to put myself at risk. I wanted to document what was happening to the young man who seemed critically injured, and the people who were trying to keep him alive,” Goyette wrote.
Photojournalist Dymanh Chhoun of WCCO-TV tweeted that he, too, had been caught in a cloud of tear gas.
The Minneapolis Police Department did not immediately respond to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s request for comment.
Just before 11 p.m., Minnesota Reformer reporter Ricardo Lopez tweeted that he was “physically yanked away” by a police officer who wanted the media to move away from the advancing police line. Lopez could not be reached for comment to further clarify his tweet.
A second Reformer reporter, Max Nesterak, tweeted that he was struck in the chest by a rubber bullet shot by Minneapolis police.
“[The rubber bullet] covered me in dust that’s been making me cough for a half hour. I’m home now,” Nesterak wrote.
Nesterak was not immediately available for comment.
Freelance journalist Jared Goyette filed a lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis and law enforcement after he was struck in the face with a projectile and subjected to tear gas.
The ACLU filed the complaint on Goyette’s behalf on June 2, 2020, naming as defendants the city, Police Officers Federation President Lt. Robert Kroll, police chief Medaria Arradondo, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matthew Langer, as well as two John Does.
On May 27, Goyette was reporting on the second night of protests spurred by the death of George Floyd in police custody. According to the complaint, police issued no warning prior to firing a projectile that struck Goyette as he stood alone with no one else in his immediate vicinity.
Goyette told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he had wanted to step away from the area he considered dangerous. “It was at that moment that I was hit directly in the head,” Goyette said
The complaint alleges that Goyette’s injury was part of a pattern of excessive use of force and targeting of journalists amid the Minnesota protests. It therefore motioned for the lawsuit to be ruled a class action suit, citing the arrests of journalists like WCCO photojournalist Tom Aviles and CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, as well as injuries suffered by journalists including independent photojournalist Linda Tirado and MSNBC reporter Ali Velshi.
“When I was hit, I had flacks, I had a ‘PRESS’ shirt, I had a notebook, at various times I had a camera, I made a point not to run,” Goyette said. “If they were looking at who they were firing at they had every reason to know that I was a journalist.”
He added that there was no communication or directives from the police ahead of their use of crowd control munitions, and that he believes police were targeting journalists and protesters alike.
“The past week has been marked by an extraordinary escalation of unlawful force deliberately targeting reporters,” the complaint says. “This pattern and practice of conduct by law enforcement tramples on the Constitution. It violates the sacrosanct right to freedom of speech and freedom of press that form the linchpin of a free society.”
Goyette told the Tracker that he hopes the lawsuit will put those in positions of power at the police department and city government on the stand to answer for the decisions made that day, and inform the public on who is being held accountable for those decisions.
U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina Wright denied the motion for class certification on June 9, on the basis that it is premature to issue such a ruling before discovery has taken place.
However, Wright wrote in her decision, “Goyette has asserted extensive allegations of egregious conduct by law enforcement directed at members of the news media.” Members of the news media “deserve better” she wrote.