July: Journalists threatened with arrest while reporting from protests across the nation
George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, ignited a sweeping assembly of protesters across the United States — and the globe — a staggering, monthslong outcry for police reform and racial justice. In many moments peaceful, in many others bracingly violent, journalists of all stripes took to documenting these demonstrations. At times, to do the job meant to expose oneself to the effects of riot-control agents, to face harassment from individuals or law enforcement officials, to fear for your safety or have your reporting interrupted. Below is a geographically organized roundup of such examples from around the U.S. during July 2020.
A full accounting of incidents in which members of the press were assaulted, arrested or had their equipment damaged while covering these protests can be found here. To learn more about how the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents and categorizes violations of press freedom, visit pressfreedomtracker.us.
July 26, 2020
In Richmond, Virginia
- After a night of notably violent protests, the Richmond Police Department was gearing up for much the same in Monroe Park on the evening of July 26. Reporters Zach Joachim of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Olivia Ugino of NBC12 covered the events in the park that evening, where protesters had gathered despite the fact that the park had closed at sunset. A little before 10:30 p.m., Joachim noted on Twitter, “Police just ambushed protesters at Monroe Park. Some protesters were tackled. It happened fast, just as I arrived on scene, I got as much as I could. I heard police saying ‘if they’re in the park, grab them.’” In Joachim’s accompanying video, which captured officers arriving at the scene, the journalist can be heard greeting an officer before turning his camera to an individual being arrested along the park’s perimeter. Another officer can then be seen approaching the reporter, telling him to, “Move it down, move it down, keep it going.” Joachim responds, “Yes, sir,” and moves a few steps back. As the video continues, an officer can be heard twice telling Joachim to “keep moving or go to jail,” at which point Joachim verbally identifies himself as press. Another officer then says, “You’re still in the park after [its closing]. It’s trespassing.” Joachim responds that he’s on the sidewalk, which was not part of the park. The officer dismisses that categorization, insisting that he “keep moving. Now.” As the video closes, Joachim moves across the street, covered by a protester holding a makeshift shield. At around the same time that night, Ugino had tweeted: “I was walking through the park to grab this video. You can hear officers say ‘park is closed.’ I showed them my press badge, was told if I didn’t leave I would be arrested. Didn’t matter if I was press.” Also that evening, student journalist Andrew Ringle was detained by police, an incident the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented here. In a press conference the following day, the police chief addressed the detainment as well as other incidents involving members of the media, stating, “In tense situations like this … we have to look at individuals who claim to be members of the press, and we have to look at them very carefully … For those who claim to be the media, you must abide by the laws just as well. If you are in a location that you are not supposed to be in, you can be held accountable for that as well.”
July 30, 2020
In Jefferson City, Missouri
- Kaitlyn Schallhorn, the editor of the Missouri Times, had been following around 40 protesters organized by Expect US, a group seeking criminal justice reform, in coordination with state Representative Rasheen Aldridge Jr., as they marched toward the State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion that afternoon. After arriving at the mansion, the protesters lay on the street out front. After letting them lay there “for a bit,” according to Schallhorn’s Twitter feed, police ordered the protesters to return to the sidewalk, at which point they began making arrests. At 3 p.m., Schallhorn noted on Twitter the presence of a chemical irritant in the air. She later deleted the tweet, stating, “I’m not sure if it was tear gas but it was something and it was hard to breathe. At least 4 protestors were tackled and arrested." In a followup tweet a few hours later, she posted a statement from the Jefferson City Police Department about the afternoon's events, adding that “Lt. [David] Williams, a Jefferson City public information officer, has confirmed to me that pepper balls were used today during the arrests.” Schallhorn shared a video as the arrests began in which she and people around her can be heard coughing. At one point, an officer can be seen passing by Schallhorn, saying, “Stay out of the road or you will go to jail,” before yelling to the protesters, “This is unlawful now. You need to disperse.” Another officer then says directly to Schallhorn, “Ma’am, you have to move, too.” She informs him that she is press before moving behind him. He tells her that she needs to stay in front of him, saying, “I don’t know what you are or who you are,” to which she said, “I’m a reporter.” He says, “OK, that’s fine. Stay up here away from this gate [in front of the mansion].” Schallhorn moved closer to those being arrested without objection from the officers. Ten minutes later, Schallhorn posted another video of more arrests; it ended with an officer telling her, “Ma’am, I’m only going to tell you one time. You can’t interfere with the cops,” to which she responded, “I’m staying back. I’m not trying to.” He replies, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t want you to get caught up in the middle of it.” The ACLU of Missouri released a statement later in the day stating, “The brutality inflicted on peaceful protesters and journalists by the rouge police force in front of the governor’s mansion today was reprehensible.”
Information in this roundup was gathered from published social media and news reports as well as interviews where noted. To read similar incidents from other days of national protests also in this category, go here.