Even for journalists used to reporting in hostile situations, Saturday night was unique. “I’ve covered protests involving police in Ferguson, Mo., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Los Angeles. I’ve also covered the U.S. military in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been fired at by police until tonight,” wrote Los Angeles Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who was among the reporters and photographers—upwards of a dozen—attacked by law enforcement in Minneapolis.
Attacks on the news media documenting the unrest—prompted by the killing of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who died in police custody on Monday—have been alarming, with several journalists describing how police, unprovoked, fired on them and protesters. “The Minnesota State Patrol was advancing on protesters and us. We identified ourselves as press and they fired tear gas canisters on us at point-blank range,” Hennessy-Fiske said in a Twitter video, adding that she got hit in the leg and had to scale a brick wall in order to take shelter. “I was saying, ‘Where do we go? Where do we go?’ They did not tell us where to go, they did not direct us, they just fired on us.”
MSNBC’s Ali Velshi also posted a first-hand account from Minneapolis, where he was hit with a rubber bullet as police advanced on those who continued to protest past a city-imposed curfew. “State Police supported by National guard fired unprovoked into an entirely peaceful rally,” the journalist wrote on Twitter, noting that “the media are exempted from the curfew. We were doing nothing wrong when we were fired upon.”
There were also reports of other journalists coming under fire in Minneapolis, including veteran WCCO photographer Tom Aviles, who was hit by a rubber bullet and arrested on Saturday night despite identifying himself as a member of the local media. “I have never seen this level of aggression against journalists,” Patricia Lopez, a member of the Star Tribune editorial board, wrote on Twitter. “The governor's assurances that reporters could do their jobs don't seem to be making much difference to [law enforcement officers].” Freelance photographer Linda Tirado was left permanently blind after taking “a rubber bullet to the face” while covering protests in Minneapolis on Friday, she said in a tweet. “I was aiming my next shot, put my camera down for a second, and then my face exploded,” she told the New York Times in a telephone interview following her release from the hospital. “I immediately felt blood and was screaming, ‘I’m press! I’m press!’”
Tirado is among the reporters who, as CNN’s Brian Stelter writes, “by and large said they wanted the attention to be focused on the communities they cover, not on their own safety concerns.” Stelter reiterated on Sunday’s Reliable Sources that “reporters don’t want to be the story,” though emphasized why the treatment of the press this weekend is so unnerving. “Police firing rubber bullets at reporters when reporters are holding up press badges? That doesn’t belong in America,” he said. “Authorities handcuffing reporters is wrong. That’s what happens in authoritarian regimes, not America.”
The reports of attacks on members of the media, and arrests of them, have deeply troubled press advocacy groups. “Journalists have a clear First Amendment right to cover public events. While the police eventually released these journalists without charges, others have been subjected to tear gas and injured by rubber bullets,” Freedom of the Press Foundation director Parker Higgins said in a statement on Friday following the arrest of CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his camera crew on live television, which Higgins called “a shocking and unconscionable act by the Minnesota State Patrol.”
Journalists were arrested Friday night in Las Vegas, while both a HuffPost reporter and a CNN commentator were arrested on Saturday while covering demonstrations in New York City. In Louisville, disturbing footage showed police aiming and firing pepper balls directly at a reporter and cameraman who had reportedly “been following police instructions, were standing behind the police line when they were fired upon, and were not disrupting or otherwise interfering with law enforcement.”
In addition to threats from police, journalists have reportedly been targeted by protesters in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh. On Friday evening, CNN reported that crowds gathering outside the company’s headquarters in Atlanta were “seen vandalizing CNN’s logo outside its offices, breaking the building’s glass and entering the center. Protesters were also heard chanting anti-media rhetoric.” Police vehicles parked in front of the building were also destroyed, as was the interior of the CNN building that protesters later entered.
“You have defaced the CNN building. Ted Turner started CNN in Atlanta 40 years ago because he believed in who we are as a city,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who condemned the destruction in a speech Friday night. “There was a black reporter who was arrested on camera this morning, who works for CNN. They are telling our stories. And you are disgracing their building.”
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