U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Reporters chased out of Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park by officers in riot gear

Incident Details

May 30, 2020

Secret Service agents and U.S. Park Police chased two journalists out of Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Park in the early morning hours of May 30, 2020, minutes after the journalists were caught in a cloud of pepper spray, video footage of the incident shows.

At 3:22 a.m, officers in riot gear with the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police sprayed pepper spray toward a crowd of protesters as they attempted to clear the park across from the White House, according to the video streamed live on Periscope by Yahoo News White House Correspondent Hunter Walker. Some of it wafted over to the side of the park where journalists were standing.

“After several hours of standoff here, this was the moment that the Secret Service and U.S. Park Police decided to advance,” Walker said, narrating the unfolding scene to his viewers on the livestream. “So they’re now pushing this crowd through the park.” Walker said he was holding up his White House “hard pass,” press credentials that allow him to enter the White House, to show he was a member of the media.

He said he inhaled some of the pepper spray through his N95 mask, leading to the sensation of “a little fire in the back of my throat,” he said. “I only got the smallest edge of that. They’re spraying more. They’re saying 'out of the park or you will be sprayed’”

The officers then rushed toward the crowd. “All of us reporters are here on the side, the police are just running forward into the crowd,” he said, coughing. “I am holding my hard pass in the air.”

A few officers then turned their attention to Walker, running towards him with their shields out, the video shows. “Press, guys, press. Press. OK. Press, press. Hard pass. Press. OK. Press. I’m press,” Walker shouts. Walker was chased out of the park, and turned off his livestream as an officer continued to come towards him, even as the reporter continued to wave his pass.

In a Yahoo News story he published later that day, he described the incident and said officers from both the Secret Service and Park Police forced identified members of the press out of the park across from the White House, shouting: “Get the f*** out of the park!”

Mike Balsamo, who covers the Justice Department and federal law enforcement for The Associated Press, also was present as the officers chased reporters out of the park.

Neither the Secret Service nor the U.S. Park Police provided comment on the incident in response to an e-mailed request.

A few hours earlier, Walker was hit by an individual, which interrupted his livestream.

The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

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 Black Lives Matter 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].