Tampa Bay Times journalist knocked to the ground, detained while covering Florida protests

June 3, 2020

Tampa Bay Times reporter Divya Kumar was detained in the early hours of June 3, 2020, while covering a protest in Tampa, Florida.

Protesters had gathered in Tampa and in cities across the U.S. to denounce police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

The Times reported that Kumar was arrested downtown when Tampa Bay Police Department officers declared an unlawful assembly near Joe Chillura Courthouse Square.

The outlet reported that Kumar held up her media credentials to identify herself as a member of the press as a line of bicycle officers advanced. However, one of the bicycle officers knocked Kumar to the ground, handcuffed her and then placed her in plastic zip ties for 10 to 15 minutes.

Luis Santana, a Times photojournalist, posted photos of her detention on Twitter.

“I don’t know what I could have done differently,” Kumar told the Times. “I identified myself as a journalist and tried to get out of there safely.”

In a news conference held later that day, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan defended the officers’ actions and emphasized that Kumar had been detained, not arrested.

“I think what happened was in their effort to cover the actions they ended up too close to it and ended up getting detained,” Dugan said, adding that Kumar was released after she was identified as a member of the media.

At the same press conference, Mayor Jane Castor suggested that many people attended the protest with fake media credentials, and declined to apologize for Kumar’s detention.

“We got bigger things out there than apologizing to a reporter that gets detained that didn’t leave when they were asked to leave three times,” Castor said.

The Times reported that later that day, Castor did call Kumar to apologize, as did Chief Assistant City Attorney Kirby Rainsberger.

Rainsberger said officers’ treatment of Kumar was “an overreaction,” and the city was reiterating the right of the press to the department during officer roll calls and via email.

In a statement published that day, Times Executive Editor Mark Katches objected to the detentions of Kumar and a second Times journalist, Jay Cridlin, in St. Petersburg the night before. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documented Cridlin’s arrest here.

“Journalists need to be able to do our jobs and report the news without being harassed, detained, intimidated or harmed by law enforcement,” Katches said.

The 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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