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May 31: While reporting from protests across the nation, journalists tear gassed, threatened

May 31, 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 Sunday, May 31, 2020, the culmination to a weekend that saw the highest number of aggressions against journalists reported to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker since the start of the recent 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 31, 2020

In Denver, Colorado

  • Lindsay Fendt, a freelance journalist on assignment for High Country News, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an interview that she was enveloped in a cloud of tear gas at 7:12 p.m. outside the state Capitol when a police officer kicked a canister of tear gas that had rolled in his direction. The canister happened to land near her, she said, and she inhaled the gas, which left her sweating and temporarily unable to see. “I just stumbled up a hill and thought I was going to throw up,” she said. She used milk and water with baking soda to rinse off her face. She said she does not feel as though she was targeted as a journalist with the gas. “I don’t think they were really paying attention to who anybody was,” she said.

In Austin, Texas

  • Kacey Bowen, a reporter for KTBC, a Fox affiliate station based in Austin, and her photographer were caught up in tear gas while reporting live outside Austin Police Department headquarters. After throwing the feed back to the studio, Bowen and her photographer can be heard coughing and dousing their face and eyes with a solution Bowen said was provided by some protesters. “The tear gas definitely came down from [I-]35. We did get hit with it. It did get in our eyes and in my photog’s face. But we are doing OK. Definitely did burn for a little bit,” she reported once she was live again.

In Dallas, Texas

Tabitha Lipkin, a host on NBCLX, tweeted around 11:30 p.m. on May 30: “Went into downtown Dallas to cover the protest. They were happening just a few blocks away from my new apartment. Here’s the images I captured. It was peaceful for the majority of my journey, but turned intense and somewhat violent towards the end.” In one of the four accompanying photos, Lipkin can be seen pouring a liquid solution into her left eye. A little after midnight, she followed up with a video and posted that she and executive producer Americo Capodagli had tear gas thrown at them: “I turned on my camera the moment tear gas was thrown right towards where me and my Exec Producer @americocap were standing at the press line. My first and first hand experience with tear gas.”

In Cincinnati, Ohio

Sarah Brookbank, a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer, was live on Facebook documenting the scene near the Hamilton County Courthouse right around the time of the city’s 9 p.m. curfew. A few minutes in, she noted the use of what she described as pepper balls. A little over seven minutes into the video, an officer can be seen approaching Brookbank and other reporters in the area: “Go. Move. Now. What’d I tell you about curfew?” Brookbank and fellow Enquirer reporter Dan Horn can be heard identifying themselves as media and members of the press. The officer then says to Brookbank, “You don’t look like the media to me.” About an hour later, as she was documenting the arrest of a protester nearby, Brookbank tweeted: “Cops yelled at us as we filmed, told us to ‘get the f***k out of here’ and came toward us, I yelled that we were with the media, we’re told we needed ‘more visible’ marking. I have my press badge in my hand.”

In Washington, D.C.

  • WUSA, a CBS affiliate station in the nation’s capital, reported that at midnight reporter Matt Gregory and photographer James Hash “were tear-gassed on Live TV while reporting at the scene of the protest.” At approximately 12:25 a.m., Gregory tweeted: “As they move the protestors down H street, police fired a combination of tear gas and flash bangs. We took a little bit of the gas. Protestors stopped to help us breathe and clear our eyes out.”

Perry Stein, a reporter for the Washington Post, tweeted on June 2: “I’ve covered inauguration & clashes between anti Trump & pro Trump protesters in DC. Never seen anything like the last four nights. Was tear gassed with a bunch of young protesters lighting streets on fire Sunday. On Monday, peaceful protesters ran scared from gas/ explosions.”

  • Reporter Shelby Talcott, of the Daily Caller, a Washington-based news website, told the Tracker that while she was covering protests near Lafayette Square just after midnight when police at the scene fired a tear gas canister in her direction. Talcott said she had to leave the area and had someone rinse her eyes with saline solution, but said that she did not require medical attention and was able to keep covering the demonstration. “I had to step back for about five to 10 minutes.” Talcott said she did not think she was targeted by police, as she was standing in the middle of a group of protesters and was not wearing credentials or clothing that clearly identified her as a member of the press. “My view of it was that it was thrown at me because I was in a crowd of protesters,” she said. “So I wouldn’t say I was targeted as press.”

In Wilmington, North Carolina

  • Reporter Emily Featherston, of WECT, an NBC affiliate station based in Wilmington, reported to the Tracker: “Myself and fellow reporter/videographer Bryant Reed were, like others, affected by tear gas (authorities originally denied having used CS tear gas, but when confronted with what we experienced and a canister found on the street, walked back). Then, after being told by the chief of police we were standing in an acceptable location (on the steps of City Hall, out of the street and way of law enforcement), a Sheriff's deputy approached us in full riot gear.” Featherston said that the deputy then told them to move, to which they responded: “We’re with the media!” The deputy then said, “I don’t give a shit! Move!” according to Featherston. She continued: “The deputy then told us if we did not move we would be arrested on the spot. In the interest of continuing our coverage, we moved up the street.” In a Facebook Live stream, Featherston discussed the incident with New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon, who apologized to her. Reed later told WECT colleague Jon Evans in his podcast 1on1 with Jon Evans: “We didn’t take a direct hit. Where we were, it was the wind that blew back the tear gas toward the officers we were close to. That’s how it got in our eyes, how we got affected. Then, one of the officers was telling us to disperse the area immediately or we could be arrested, so we had to walk back into the tear gas and we got more of it. At least for myself, it wasn’t that bad at first. But then within a minute it was ‘Oh my goodness, my eyes are burning terribly.’ I’m crying. We had the masks on too, which seemed to make it even worse.”

In Richmond, Virginia

  • Olivia Ugino, a reporter for WWBT, an NBC affiliate station based in Richmond, tweeted around 11:25 p.m.: “Here’s how it’s going down tonight. Police seem to be swarming vehicles and arresting those out past curfew. I attempted to get out of my car to shoot video and was approached by officers with guns pulled and was told to get on the ground.” In an accompanying video, Ugino can be heard telling the officers that she worked for NBC12. An officer can then be heard saying, “If you’ve got credentials, I need to see them.” Upon showing the officer her credentials, he says, “All right, yes, ma’am, you’re fine. Do what you gotta do.” In a threaded tweet, Ugino wrote: “I was told I was fine with my credentials. I then tried to get video of the arrest, with my door open, and another officer reached in and grabbed me. We were then told to leave.” In the accompanying footage, an officer can then be heard saying, “Back it up, back it up. I don’t care who you work for. Back it up, I don’t want you here. Let’s go. It’s a security issue.” Ugino complied and moved her vehicle to a nearby parking lot, according to an account on Facebook she gave in the early hours of June 1. Neither Ugino or WWBT could be reached for comment.

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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