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Police target dozens of journalists covering protests in Minneapolis with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets

May 30, 2020

Police attacked dozens of journalists with rubber bullets, tear gas, and pepper spray on May 30, 2020, during protests in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Protests began in Minnesota on May 26, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew began, police fired rubber bullets that hit Reuters producer Julio-César Chávez in his neck and left arm, according to an account of the event published by Reuters and a tweet from Chávez.

Chávez filmed a police officer aiming directly at him and firing, according to the Reuters report, which said that the officer shot both Chávez and Reuters security advisor Rodney Seward.

Seward yelled that he had been hit in the face by a rubber bullet, and was later treated by a medic for a deep gash under his left eye, according to Reuters.

Chavez was holding cameras and had a press pass around his neck; Seward was wearing a bulletproof vest labeled “press,” according to their employer.

At about 8:30 p.m., Minnesota state patrol officers fired pepper spray and rubber bullets at a group of at least 20 journalists including L.A. Times photographer Carolyn Cole, L.A. Times correspondent Molly Hennessy-Fiske, independent photographer Sait Serkan Gurbuz, and KSTP-TV investigative television reporter Ryan Raiche, according to Garbuz, who spoke to the Committee to Protect Journalists in a phone interview, Cole’s account of the incident in the L.A. Times, and social media posts by the journalists.

Cole wrote that many of the journalists were wearing clearly marked press vests, and that Hennessy-Fiske loudly identified the group as journalists. Cole wrote that an officer came very close to the group and fired pepper spray, and that she “could feel the full force of the pepper spray go into my left ear and eye.”

Cole wrote that a local resident helped her get to a hospital for assistance after being pepper-sprayed.

Raiche tweeted that he was accompanied by a photographer and producer, and the group was all pepper-sprayed and teargassed after repeatedly saying they were members of the media.

Police also pepper-sprayed Gurbuz, who was covering the protests as a contributor to Zuma Press, while he was holding his credentials and saying “journalist” as loudly as he could, he told CPJ. Gurbuz said that he was wearing a respirator when police used pepper spray, but his hands and right ear burned for a day after the event.

At about 8:40 p.m., a group of Minnesota state police and National Guard officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a group of protesters, which also hit several journalists covering the demonstrations.

MSNBC host Ali Velshi was hit by a rubber bullet in his left shin and was affected by the tear gas, he told CPJ phone interview and as seen in a broadcast by MSNBC. Velshi said it was not clear whether the tear gas and rubber bullets were fired by state police or National Guard officers.

Velshi said in the broadcast that he did not have time to put on his mask when the tear gas was first released. After Velashi and his crew retreated from the police line, the host was then hit by the rubber bullet, he told CPJ.

Also at about 8:40 p.m., police fired tear gas and non-lethal rounds that hit Andrew Buncombe, the chief U.S. correspondent for the British Independent newspaper, he told CPJ in a phone interview.

Buncombe said that he and several other reporters were trying to retreat from the area where police were advancing on protesters when police fired a non-lethal round that hit his backpack, leaving a white powder behind. He posted a photo of the backpack to Twitter.

After journalists separated themselves from the crowd, police released more tear gas in their direction, despite journalists repeatedly showing their press credentials and saying they were press, Buncombe said.

At about 8:50 p.m., CNN broadcast a video of an unidentified man carrying a camera and wearing a helmet with “PRESS” written on it, saying that police had just shot him with a non-lethal round. His identity and further details of the case could not be immediately determined.

At about 11 p.m., police pushed Vice News reporter Michael Anthony Adams to the ground and pepper-sprayed him while he was identifying himself as press and displaying his credentials, according to Vice News producer Roberto Daza and Mikhail Turgiev, a correspondent with the Russian news agency RIA, both of whom witnessed the incident and spoke to CPJ, and a series of videos shot by Adams.

The Vice News team, including Adams, Daza, co-producer Amel Guettatfi and cameraperson Daniel Vergara, were filming a report about police and state troopers storming a local business as its owners were trying to protect the property from looters, Daza told CPJ.

Daza said that, several hours earlier in the evening, state troopers fired a non-lethal round that struck him in the back.

Moments after pepper-spraying Adams, police then pepper-sprayed Turgiev, who had taken refuge in the Vice crew’s vehicle, he told CPJ and Russian state-owned news channel Rossiya 24.

Turgiev said he told the officer he was a member of the press and showed his State Department-issued press credentials, and then an officer pepper-sprayed him, according to a video from the Russian government-funded channel Sputnik. The journalist was able to turn his head and the gas only got into his right eye, he said in that video.

“There’s no explanation of why they used this kind of force,” Turgiev told Sputnik.

Also that evening, police fired a rubber bullet that hit Canadian Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Susan Ormiston in her shoulder, and fired an unidentified canister that hit her in the buttocks, she said in a report for the broadcaster. In her report, Ormiston said that police opened fire on her and her CBC team while they were in a parking lot filming officers’ actions.

Police also fired a rubber bullet that hit John Marschitz, a CBS sound engineer, in the elbow, according to tweets from CBS correspondent Michael George, who wrote that the crew was at least 500 feet away from protesters, and had their credentials displayed and cameras out when police opened fire.

Minneapolis police also fired projectiles at Deutsche Welle reporter Stefan Simons and his camera operator, and threatened the journalists with arrest, according to a tweet from the news agency.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune reporter Chris Serres wrote on Twitter that Minneapolis police tear gassed him and shot him in the groin with a rubber bullet while he was covering the protests, despite waving his press badge.

He wrote that he was “twice ordered at gunpoint by Minneapolis police to hit the ground [and] warned that if [he] moved ‘an inch’ [he’d] be shot.”

The Minneapolis police, Minnesota state police, and Minnesota National Guard did not reply to emailed requests for comment about these incidents.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

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

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