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Multiple journalists assaulted while covering D.C. protests

May 31, 2020

Multiple journalists said they were assaulted by law enforcement during a chaos-filled night of protests in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 2020, the third evening of widespread demonstrations in the nation’s capital after the death of George Floyd.

Freelance videographer Roddy Hafiz told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that shortly after 6 p.m. he had begun to document protesters next to Lafayette Square, near the White House. In a clip reviewed by the Tracker, camoflauge-clad military police can be seen firing chemical agents into the crowd, which was then forced to retreat by a row of advancing U.S. Park Police officers mounted on horseback. Hafiz told the Tracker that as the crowd headed toward Constitution Avenue, officers fired one projectile at his feet and another at eye level, so close to his head that he could feel a rush of air pass him. He said that he identified himself to them as a journalist.

“I’m, like, ‘Hello, I’m media. You can see me holding a camera. Don’t point your weapons at me,’” Hafiz told the Tracker. “‘If you’re gonna shoot tear gas, obviously shoot it over me. Use whatever protocols you guys have been taught.’ I don’t think it’s to shoot at journalists point-blank, eye level.”

Matthew Rodier, a freelance photojournalist who frequently contributes to the Sipa USA agency, told the Tracker via email that at about 10:30 p.m. he’d found himself in the path of a line of advancing officers on H Street. “When they got really close I put my hands in the air and shouted ‘I’m a journalist’ multiple times,” Rodier recounted. He said an officer in front of him “spun me around and hit me with a baton in my posterior hard enough to drop me to the ground.” Rodier said he yelled, “I’m a journalist,” again and that the officer responded, “I don’t care. Get out of here.” A protester helped Rodier up.

Rodier was unclear what law enforcement agency the officers belonged to. Later that evening, an individual assaulted Rodier and broke his jaw. The Tracker captured that incident here.

Josh Replogle, a journalist with CNN, tweeted early the following morning that at one point the night before he’d been pinned by officers and struck with a baton by another. He tweeted: “I was supporting a CNN cam had my creds on police knew I was media,” adding “I’m hurt but ok.”

CNN did not respond to a request for comment on this incident as of press time.

Jason Patinkin, a journalist with Voice of America, said in an article published by VOA on June 4 that he’d been leaving protests near Lafayette Square around 11 p.m. with another news crew when he heard a loud bang and saw a flash-bang device land near their feet. He then said he saw an officer raise a weapon and fire in their direction. In footage of the incident posted by VOA, the projectile appears to ricochet off the ground. Patinkin told his employer that he felt something hit his flak jacket, near his left shoulder.

Patinkin told VOA that his press credentials were displayed and that it was unclear which agency the officers were with.

“I’ve covered lots of places where there’s been conflict and civil unrest. I’ve seen a lot of disproportionate response and I think that a lot of what the police around the White House have been doing certainly qualifies as both disproportionate and indiscriminate,” Patinkin told VOA in a later article.

VOA did not respond to further requests for comment on this incident as of press time.

D.C. is notable for the large number of different police forces that operate within its borders. Requests for comment from the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Park Police were not returned.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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