June 1: While reporting from protests across the nation, journalists tear-gassed, threatened

June 1, 2020

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. on June 1, 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.

June 1, 2020

Journalists caught in tear gas and other chemical irritants

In Columbus, Ohio

  • WOSU reporter Paige Southwick Pfleger and All Things Considered host Clare Roth were covering the protests in the downtown area when they saw reports on social media of an attack on three journalists from the Lantern, the Ohio State University student newspaper, Pfleger told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. By the time the WOSU reporters arrived at the intersection of North High Street and Lane Avenue at around 10:45 p.m., Pfleger said most of the crowd had dispersed. Pfleger said she saw one individual on the ground being arrested and a group of more than a dozen police officers. As the two journalists reached the intersection, Pfleger said several police officers approached them and told them to leave. Pfleger, who was holding her WOSU media badge in her hand to show the officers, replied that they had a right to be there as members of the media. According to Pfleger, the officer told them, “You have to go one block down. If I have to tell you again I’m going to hose you.” A different officer, who was about a foot away from the journalists, then raised a can of pepper spray at their eye level and told them to leave immediately, Pfleger said. As the women walked away from the scene, Pfleger said, the officer followed them for half a block and continued to threaten them with the pepper spray. In a video Pfleger posted to Twitter, an officer can be seen following them with the pepper spray canister raised in his hand. Pfleger is heard saying, “I’m sorry, what was that threat? We’re members of the media, you have no right, and we’re walking away.” The officer then turned around and left. Roth also tweeted about the incident. “Being threatened with a tear gas canister is a new one.” WOSU published an account of the incident the next day but did not seek an official response from the Columbus Division of Police, according to Pfleger. The Columbus Division of Police did not respond to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker’s request for comment.

In Washington, D.C.

  • In what the Washington Post referred to as “a massive show of force,” federal agents used tear gas and rubber bullets early in the evening to clear the way for President Donald Trump to visit a church for a photo op. Multiple journalists reported being assaulted while covering the day’s ongoing protests as well as affected by the chemical irritants.
  • Nadia Bilbassy-Charters, Al Arabiya TV’s D.C. bureau chief, tweeted around 9:15 p.m.: “Last scene from the streets of #WashingtonDCProtest outside the #WHITEHOUSE after 10 hours of live coverage, got tear gassed twice, exhausted but left the city in one piece #ICantBreathe #GeorgeFloyd #StJohnsChurch #DCProtests.”

Journalists threatened while reporting

In Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Cincinnati police arrested a man after he allegedly pointed a firearm from a car at a media crew and its security guard who’d been covering protests in the city, Lieutenant Steve Saunders, a Cincinnati Police Department spokesperson, told the Tracker. Saunders said that a minor was arrested as well. Local news reports citing the police said four people in the vehicle were detained. According to court documents, Solomon Zellars, 18, was the arrestee and released on cash bond of $100,000. As of Sept. 11, 2020, he faces charges of carrying concealed weapons and improperly handling firearms in a motor vehicle. Saunders told the Tracker that police confiscated an AR-15-style rifle with a hundred-round magazine, and the police department’s Twitter account shared a photo of the firearm. Saunders told the Tracker the news crew was unaware a weapon had been pointed at them. But the Cincinnati Enquirer, citing Saunders, reported that the TV crew had informed the police about the incident. The identity of the TV crew is not clear.

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.

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

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