IPI Condemns Attacks on Journalists Covering U.S. Protests

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Boston Police push back protesters during demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody, in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 31 May 2020. A bystander's video posted online on 25 May, shows George Floyd pleading with arresting officers that he couldn't breathe as an officer knelt on his neck. The unarmed black man soon became unresponsive, and was later pronounced dead. According to reports on 29 May, Derek Chauvin, the police officer at the center of the incident, has been taken into custody and charged with murder in the death of George Floyd. (EPA-EFE/CJ GUNTHER)

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, today condemned the alarming attacks on journalists covering ongoing protests and unrest in the United States at the hands of police and in some cases protesters.

Demonstrations and rioting have spread across the U.S. in response to the death of a black man, George Floyd, after a police officer in Minneapolis kneeled on his neck for several minutes on May 25. Journalists covering the events have increasingly been the target of dozens of highly disturbing acts by police in cities across the U.S., including arrests, violent threats and the targeted use of rubber bullets and tear gas, despite clearly identifying themselves as members of the press.

“The escalating violence and detention of journalists in the U.S. covering the George Floyd protests and related unrest is hugely disturbing and an alarming departure from basic norms around the press’s right to cover issues of public concern”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The growing list of incidents reveals a chilling pattern in which reporters were targeted by police despite clearly identifying themselves as journalists.”

“Journalists have an essential role in covering and documenting the ongoing unrest in the U.S. and must be able to do so free from violence from police or demonstrators, or risk of arrest. We urgently call on police to stop targeting reporters and let them do their jobs.”

On May 29, photojournalist Linda Tirado was left blind after being hit by a police rubber bullet in Minneapolis, while a Los Angeles Times reporter said police had fired tear gas at journalists and photographers at “point blank range”. In Louisville, Kentucky, local news reporter Kaitlin Rust and her camera crew were fired upon with rubber bullets. Rust said police officers were aiming “at us, like directly at us”. Journalists or camera crews from CBS NewsReuters and MSNBC have reported being targeted with rubber bullets in Minneapolis.

Journalists have also been detained, beginning with the shocking, live arrest of CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and his team in Minneapolis on Thursday. Local news cameraman Tom Aviles was detained in Minneapolis on Saturday night after being fired upon and then pushed to the ground by police while trying to report. Des Moines Register reporter Andrea May Sahouri was detained overnight in Iowa after covering demonstrations there.

Reports and video footage indicate that police have ignored the fact that journalists have identified themselves as members of the press. Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres said he was ordered to the ground by Minneapolis police and warned he would be shot if he moved “an inch”, despite showing his press badge. Vice journalist Michael Anthony Adams said on Twitter had he was thrown to the ground by police despite displaying his press card, after which another officer pepper sprayed him in the face while on the ground.

MSNBC’s Ali Velshi said after being shot at with rubber bullets in Minneapolis: “We put our hands up and yelled, ‘We’re media!’”. They responded, ‘We don’t care!’ and they opened fire a second time.”

In some cases, protesters have also targeted journalists. In Washington, D.C., protesters surrounded and harassed Fox News journalist Leland Vittert, then grabbed the journalist’s microphone and struck him with it. On Friday, protests attacked CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta, causing damage. In Alabama, the news site AL.com released footage showing protesters assaulting members of its reporting team. Attacks against reporters by protesters were also reported in Phoenix and Pittsburgh.

Foreign journalists have also been targeted. A team of Australian journalists was briefly detained and searched by police in Minneapolis, while a group of reporters from Sweden and Norway were injured after being hit with rubber bullets.

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