Omaha police detain journalist during protest, refusing to believe he is media

July 25, 2020

Video journalist Jazari Kual was detained by police officers while covering protests in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 25, 2020, according to news reports and the journalist’s statements on social media. Kual said he was held for more than an hour by officers who doubted his professional status, but he eventually was released without charge.

On the night of July 25, protestors had been marching for several hours in downtown Omaha while police officers accompanied them and redirected traffic, Kual told the local television network KETV 7. The demonstrators were protesting against the killing of a Nebraska man, James Scurlock, who died during Black Lives Matter protests in May, as well as in solidarity with widespread protests in Portland, OR, against police brutality.

Once protestors reached the city’s Farnam Street bridge, police officers announced that the demonstration was an “unlawful assembly and you’re all subject to arrest,” Kual told KLKN- TV in an interview. Kual, who founded the independent media company Kualdom Creations and frequently livestreams protests in Nebraska, said the officers gave no prior warning or order to disperse before making arrests. The Omaha World-Herald later reported that of 120 people arrested at the protest, 30 were subsequently charged with criminal violations.

When asked by KETV about the arrests, a spokesperson for the Omaha Police Department told the network that "The protesters started walking in the street against the direction of traffic, then there were announcements made advising the crowd that they were unlawfully assembling before arrests were made."

Kual said in the KLKN interview that he “had my media badge on, I had everything on me. I had my company shirt on.” But police officers “didn’t believe I was media,” he said, and detained him for more than an hour. In a video Kual posted to Twitter days later, he can be heard telling an officer that he owns a media company. The officer responds that media are supposed to report from “certain locations” and tells Kual that he’ll be going to jail along with the other protestors.

In footage from the bridge later that evening that Kual livestreamed to Facebook, the journalist, constrained in zip ties, can be heard having an extended conversation with another police officer about his status as a member of the media. “We don’t usually arrest media, so I don’t know what’s going on,” the officer says. “Do you have any proof you’re part of a media team?” At about 16:48 into the livestream, Kual and the officer (who later identifies himself and gives his badge number) discuss Kual’s work and professional status.

As the officer scrolls through Google results for his name, Kual describes himself as a social media influencer, saying that “no one wanted to hire me as a reporter, so I started my own media company and got a million views.” The officer then releases Kual after telling him to get more “official” looking credentials, and to “try to delineate yourself better from the crowd.” Police then walk with Kual to his car and cut off the zip ties.

An Oct. 16 article in the Journal Star newspaper in Lincoln, Nebraska, where Kual lives, says “He’s covered dozens of marches since April [2020]. Maybe 100. He travels to Omaha to livestream marches there.”

Kual’s detainment was mentioned in a Twitter post by journalist Melanie Buer. Buer was also detained that evening, which the Tracker has documented here.

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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