June 2: Journalists tear-gassed 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. on June 2, 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 2, 2020
In Seattle, Washington
- The ACLU announced on June 9 that it had filed an emergency lawsuit against the city on behalf of Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County and several individuals, arguing that “the use of chemical agents and projectiles for crowd control violate the First and Fourth Amendments.” Nathalie Graham, a staff writer at the Stranger, a biweekly alternative newspaper in Seattle, was among the plaintiffs. In her declaration, she relayed the following about the events of June 2: “I was working at The Stranger’s office at around 11:30 p.m. The office is on the third floor of a building that has a clear view of the intersection at 11th and Pine in Capitol Hill, which has become a daily protest site. That night, I was recording the demonstration from the fire escape. The vast majority of protesters below had been peaceful, although a few individuals had thrown water bottles, rocks, and at one point a traffic cone. Overall, the demonstration did not appear to be dangerous or out-of-control. The police made an announcement that I could not hear over a loudspeaker, and almost immediately afterwards removed their barricade so that officers on bikes could come streaming through into the crowd of protesters. They also started firing tear gas. I was seriously alarmed by the sudden escalation, and quickly retreated back inside my office, where I shut the windows. The ground below was so immersed in gas that I couldn’t see the road. Some of it began to seep in to my office, despite the closed windows, and I began to cough…. Later, while I continued to record events below from the window, the police directed a large spotlight at me. I don’t know whether they knew my building was the Stranger’s offices; this is common knowledge in the neighborhood, but our name is not displayed prominently on the street. Whether or not they knew that I was a journalist, I don’t understand why they fixed their light on me, and it made me nervous. To be honest, I was frightened—it gave me the impression that I was doing something wrong, even though I knew that I wasn’t. Despite my intimidation, I continued to record. Witnessing the aggressive, indiscriminate deployment of chemical agents and flash bang grenades by police at these protests has made me reconsider how I approach my assignments. There is a new element of trepidation, anxiety, and fear to my experience of being a journalist. I am determined to assert my rights and do my job, so I will continue reporting—but I would not be surprised if other journalists felt that their ability report from the ground was significantly impaired by these law enforcement tactics. They are deeply disturbing.”
In Charlotte, North Carolina
- When asked about the “direct hit of some tear gas” he took on the night of June 2 while covering protests, Ron Lee, a reporter and videographer for WBTV, a CBS affiliate station based in Charlotte, told the podcast 1on1 with Jon Evans, from sister station WECT, in nearby Wilmington: “It was just one of multiple hits we took while covering uptown protests…. They started off with one of their senior officers there, and I know him very well. He had what’s basically a pepper ball gun. If you’ve ever played paintball with your kid, that’s basically what they use but it’s filled with a cayenne pepper sauce. And that’s specifically to try to deter the instigators, the people who are the leaders of the demonstrations at that point. It’s kind of like a surgical strike. When that failed to disperse the crowd, they started to use items like these—this is an actual flash-bang grenade that I collected at the riot. For folks who can’t see it, it’s a cylindrical object made of metal. Probably about 2 inches high, about 3 inches deep. What this does, if you can imagine, it’s like an extremely loud firework…. These things will go off very close to crowds, which will do a very good job of dispersal. I’ve been in the business for 33 years, talked to riot police in multiple markets. The last thing they want to do is use gas, which comes in a canister like this. I also collected this at the riot scene. Gas is an uncontrollable beast. What I mean by that is that once deployed, you have no idea where the gas goes. You have no control over it. In a metropolitan area like Charlotte, the wind switches direction, gets in between those buildings, the gas could very easily come back on police officers, which many times it did. It also came back on the media. We took several hits, and I can tell you from first-hand experience, it is a very good deterrent to get you out of a particular situation…. We knew what it was immediately. There’s no question what it is. The problem is that when it’s deployed, it affects your eyesight first. It’s like this burning sensation, and then the optics around your eye start to burn uncontrollably, and then you inhale the gas. Well, your lungs immediately want to purge the gas from your system, so you start coughing. But when you cough, you’ve got to bring in a deeper breath, so that makes it much worse…. There was a crew next to me from a competing station, and they took it very hard. Both the photographer as well as the reporter were on all fours, almost vomiting, it was so bad. They actually had to have a person who referred to themselves as a ‘riot medic,’ who was actually part of the demonstration, come up and administer aid, give them some water, try to wipe the cayenne pepper sauce out of their eyes.”
Information in this roundup was gathered from published social media and news reports. To read similar incidents from other days of national protests in this category, go here.