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As demonstrations against #policebrutality and #racism have spread throughout the #UnitedStates in the week since #Minneapolis police killed 46-year-old unarmed Black man #GeorgeFloyd, an alarming pattern has emerged of violent police attacks being launched against journalists and reporters covering the often-raucous protests.
Shockingly, the attacks aren’t only being waged against alternative media like Unicorn Riot or other press outlets – instead, reporters with full press credentials who belong to large mainstream news organizations are facing “unacceptable attempt[s] to intimidate” them, according to journalists’ associations.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported Monday that it had tracked at least 125 violations of press freedom from Friday through Sunday night. The incidents, which are a direct violation of rights enshrined by the U.S. Constitution, include 20 arrests of journalists and a number of deliberate assaults on journalists using less-lethal weapons including tear, gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets.
While such less-lethal weapons and chemical irritants are commonly used to stop mass demonstrations, they can also lead to life-changing and serious injuries, as well as death.
In several cases, journalists clearly identified themselves and displayed their press credentials prior to the attacks.
In a statement, Committee to Protect Journalists program director Carlos Martinez said: “We are horrified by the continued use of harsh and sometimes violent actions of police against journalists doing their jobs. These are direct violations of press freedom, a fundamental Constitutional value of the #UnitedStates. “We call on local and state officials to explicitly exempt the news media from curfew regulations so that journalists are able to report freely.” However, #DonaldTrump has continued to attack the media for reporting what he calls “fake news,” describing journalists as “truly bad people with a sick agenda” and claiming on Sunday in a tweet: “The Lamestream Media is doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy.”
On Thursday, footage from Louisville, Kentucky, went viral of reporter Kaitlin Rust of local CBS affiliate WAVE 3 news and her cameraman coming under a clearly deliberate attack as an officer approached them and fired pepper-balls at them while they reported live from a protest.
The incident was far from isolated.
On Saturday night, two members of a video crew from Reuters news agency were fired on with rubber bullets as police dispersed protesters in who defied an 8 p.m. curfew. “A police officer that I’m filming turns around points his rubber-bullet rifle straight at me,” cameraman Julio-Cesar Chavez said. The Minneapolis Police Department has not commented on the attack despite being provided with video footage, Reuters said.
On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison requested that his embassy in Washington begin investigating the use of force against an Australian news crew following the violent dispersal of protesters at the White House the day prior.
Following a weekend of protests and unrest in Los Angeles, the Greater LA Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ/LA) also denounced “the numerous incidents nationally, and locally, that involve targeted attacks by law enforcement personnel on individual journalists who clearly identified themselves as journalists and were simply doing their jobs.” The group also cited the example of KPCC and LAist reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez, who was shot with a rubber bullet directly in the throat while covering protests in Long Beach.
The group’s statement concluded: “SPJ/LA is also concerned that such conduct reflects not simply a lack of training and discipline by law enforcement agencies, but the longstanding contempt and hostility from the president and other public officials toward a free and independent press … Those in law enforcement who endanger and harm journalists must be held accountable.”