MINNEAPOLIS - Between rubber bullets and tear gas, journalists have become targets for police and protesters in cities across the country while covering demonstrations surrounding the death of George Floyd.
The Radio Television Digital News Association counted more than 60 incidents over the weekend in which reporters were “injured, assaulted or harassed by either protesters or police officers," while the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, a database documenting press freedom violations in the U.S, said it was investigating more than 100 violations at protests around the country.
A medic protester assists a member of the media after police started firing tear gas and rubber bullets near the 5th police precinct during a demonstration to call for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis
The incidents were reported in cities including Minneapolis, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C., Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Denver during nationwide demonstrations against racism and police brutality following Floyd’s death on May 25.
On Saturday in Minneapolis, officers shot rubber bullets at MSNBC host Ali Velshi and his crew. Velshi said he was hit in the leg.
“We put our hands up and yelled, ‘We’re media!’” Velshi said. “They responded, ‘We don’t care!’ and they opened fire a second time.”
The incident occurred after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz promised that journalists would not be interfered with following the arrest last week of a CNN crew on live television in Minneapolis and other reports of violence against reporters.
Freelance photographer Linda Tirado was also shot while covering an anti-police brutality protest in Minneapolis and said she is now blind in her left eye.
Dan Shelley, the executive director and chief operating officer of the Radio Television Digital News Association, said while all the attacks on journalists were “outrageous and unacceptable" that he was particularly upset about the Minneapolis incidents that happened after the Governor made his reassurances.
“They started deliberately attacking journalists who were clearly identifiable and identifying themselves as journalists,” Shelley said. “We’ve heard a number of instances of police officers, either through their words or actions, saying that they just didn’t care. To be a journalist in the Twin Cities last night, particularly in Minneapolis, if you were just arrested, you were lucky.”
A member of the media is seen bleeding after police started firing tear gas and rubber bullets near the 5th police precinct following a demonstration to call for justice for George Floyd, a black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis polic
Minneapolis Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres tweeted Sunday that he was twice ordered at gunpoint to hit the ground.
“Regarding police behavior last night, I was twice ordered at gunpoint by Minneapolis police to hit the ground, warned that if I moved ‘an inch’ I'd be shot,” Serres wrote on Twitter. “This after being teargassed and hit in groin area by rubber bullet. Waiving a Star Tribune press badge made no difference.”
His Star Tribune colleague Ryan Faircloth’s car was also hit by what were “likely rubber bullets,” which shattered his window and left him with cuts on his arm and brow.
Los Angeles Times reporter Molly Hennessey-Fiske said in a video message on Twitter that she and about a dozen other press had identified themselves as such and that Minnesota State Patrol officers still “fired tear gun cannisters on us at point blank range.”
Hennessey-Fiske said she got hit in the leg. She said she asked the officers where they should go but they didn't give the reporters any direction.
“They just fired on us," she said.
In Chicago, Vice reporter Michael Adams had a similar interaction to Velshi and Hennessey-Fiske when police raided the gas station he and his crew were sheltering at and said they “didn’t care” that they were press.
“After shouting press multiple times and raising my press card in the air, I was thrown to the ground,” Adams wrote on Twitter. “Then another cop came up and peppered sprayed me in the face while I was being held down.”
Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathais was arrested Saturday while covering protests in New York. CNN commentator Keith Boykin was also arrested by the NYPD on Saturday after he identified himself as press.
In Los Angeles, Lexis-Olivier Ray said an LAPD officer hit him in the stomach after he’d identified himself as a journalist “multiple times.”
In Washington D.C., Huffington Post reporter Philip Lewis said he was hit in the leg with rubber bullets.
Detroit Free Press news director Jim Schaefer said several of their journalists showing their media badges were pepper-sprayed by Detroit police.
Eight Associated Press journalists have been hurt since the protests began, though none seriously. Three have been hit by rubber bullets, one was punched, another was knocked down and others fell.
Amid the protests, President Donald Trump said Sunday on Twitter that the “Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy.”
“As long as everybody understands what they are doing, that they are FAKE NEWS and truly bad people with a sick agenda, we can easily work through them to GREATNESS,” Trump wrote.
The acts of violence and deliberate harassment are further distressing to Shelley because it’s distracting from the real story.
“Journalists shouldn’t be the story,” Shelley said. “It is calamitous to see all of these journalists who are merely serving the public by covering these incidents of civil unrest being wantonly attacked...Journalists are representatives of the public and are there to serve the public and to tell the stories of the protesters and of the elected and other public officials trying to deal with the situation.“
He added: “It is really harming the public at large, not just the journalist. It’s interfering with their ability to be eyewitnesses and chroniclers of what’s occurring in this country right now.”
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.