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May 29: Journalists tear gassed while covering protests across California

May 29, 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 California on Friday, May 29, the start to a weekend that would see the highest number of aggressions against journalists reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker during the Black Lives Matter protests.

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.

MAY 29, 2020

Journalists caught in tear gas and other chemical irritants

In Oakland, California

  • Mario Koran, West Coast reporter for the Guardian, had been covering an escalating scene downtown that evening. Around 8:45 p.m., he noted on Twitter: “Crowd size and energy w some ebb and flow but to note that so far assembly almost entirely peaceful.” A little after 9, he reported, “That's changed. Flash grenades poppin off. Crowd throwing items at cops. Also fireworks.” Half an hour later, he noted: “Police have fired tear gas into crowd, sending people running,” and, “Many people clutching their eyes, nose running, one man bent over vomiting. Literally hard to breath.” At around 10:15, he tweeted: “My face and lungs are burning. My nose is running. I'm going home. -30-” Koran continued to tweet and share images and videos of looting and destruction. In one of his final messages of the night, he noted: “I was struck by the kindness almost all protestors showed each other tonight, apologizing when they bumped into you, offering you water to rinse tear gas from your eyes. It was unexpectedly touching.”
  • Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez, a reporter/producer for KQED, a public radio and television outfit based in San Francisco, was also in downtown Oakland that evening. At around 11:30 p.m. he tweeted, “not my most dignified moment. but hey, thanks random demonstrator for the baking soda and water,” and shared a video in which the journalist can be heard coughing, spewing a lone profanity and at one point asking, “Does anyone have milk?”
  • Doug Sovern, a political reporter for KCBS Radio, based in San Francisco, was also covering protests in downtown Oakland. In a report that aired the following day, Sovern said, “When protesters started setting off fireworks and throwing bottles at cops, police responded with tear gas and many in the crowd fled in panic. I got gassed, as did many other media.” He’d relayed a similar account at around 9:45 p.m. on May 29 on Twitter, saying, “Breaking: #Oakland police fire tear gas at #GeorgeFloyd protesters after series of small explosions. Crowd runs. I got gassed, as did many other media. Not fun. Burning eyes, hacking cough. Been at least 17 years since I managed not to avoid the gas at a protest,” and sharing a shaky video where loud noises, reported as flash-bangs, can be heard and a smoky haze looms in the distance.

In a tweet sent just after midnight, Sovern reported: “Not one person in the #GeorgeFloyd protest crowd tonight in #Oakland was hostile to me in any way. No one refused an interview or a photo, no one swore at me, and several came to my aid after I got tear gassed.”

The next morning, he added: “It was a really rough night for a lot of the media working bravely to do their best to cover a chaotic situation. Some got hit with rubber bullets. Many of us got gassed. And some good people were plain ripped off.”

In San Jose, California

  • Scott Budman, a reporter for NBC Bay Area, was covering protests downtown that evening. A little after 8 p.m., he tweeted: “OK. Just got tear gassed for the first time in my career. Time to go.” Budman also spoke about the tear-gassing briefly in a June 6 podcast he co-hosts for the Silicon Valley Business Journal, The Silicon Insider.

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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