Law enforcement have carried out numerous attacks on the press covering the demonstrations that have swept the United States after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, including firing tear gas and rubber bullets at journalists and destroying their cameras.

Between May 30 and June 7, journalist Nick Waters recorded at least 144 cases when journalists covering the protests were arrested or attacked by law enforcement. Many of the incidents occurred in Minneapolis, where the protests began, but others also occurred in other states.


In this video, which was posted on May 31 and has since garnered more than two million views, Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennefessy-Fiske explains how she and her colleagues were attacked by the Minnesota State Patrol: “We identified ourselves as press and they fired tear gas canisters at us at point blank range. I got hit in the leg.”
 
According to British daily newspaper The Guardian which analysed the attacks alongside Bellingcat, in 72 percent of these cases, the journalists were attacked when their credentials were visible or after they had identified themselves as members of the press.

Some videos showed police deliberately targeting the press. On June 2, American TV channel ABC broadcast a video showing a police officer using his shield to hit a journalist and his camera at a protest in front of the White House in Washington, DC. The journalist was quickly identified as Tim Meyers, who works for the Australian TV channel 7newsAustralia. His colleague was also shoved by police.



Australian Prime Minister Scott Morisson called on the Australian Embassy in Washington to investigate the incident.
 

On June 4, the website US Press Freedom Tracker, which tracks press freedom violations, reported that they had recorded more than 300 incidents since the start of protests, including more than 54 arrests, 208 assaults and 73 physical attacks, 47 of which were made by police.


French journalist Matthieu Derrien, who works for TF1, posted photos on Twitter on May 31 showing the window of his car smashed by a rubber bullet fired by Minneapolis police. He and his colleague Amandine Atalaya were both briefly arrested.


 

“Every time a journalist is hit with a baton, hit with tear gas, sprayed with pepper spray, detained, arrested, beaten up, other journalists become more scared to do their job”

Waters told the FRANCE 24 Observers team why he started recording these incidents.
 
So when I saw the CNN crew being arrested live on television [on May 29] it was quite shocking for me. I decided it was important to record that this was happening. At first I thought I would just find a few examples of police violence towards journalists, but it became clear that this was widespread across the United States.

The president of the United States has created a culture in which journalists and the media are viewed as, in his words, “the enemy of the people”. So therefore it becomes more acceptable for law enforcement to attack them and to use them as a target.

I don’t think the police have orders to attack journalists, but for me, it was clear that in certain cases, the police clearly knew at the beginning of the demonstration that they would attack journalists.

Since he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump has frequently criticised journalists in his speeches and on his Twitter account.
 
President Donald Trump posted this tweet on May 31, 2020.
 
Waters says that it is extremely important for journalists as well as citizens to continue to document these incidents.
 
Every time a journalist is hit with a baton, hit with tear gas, sprayed with pepper spray, detained, arrested, beaten up, that means other journalists become more scared to do their jobs. The risks become higher. So therefore they are less likely to take risks, less able to cover as much of what is happening as they need to. That means the public is less informed about what is happening around them.

The action by law enforcement in the United States directly affects the kind of information that the public receives from the press. So this is incredibly important and appears to directly attack press freedom in the United States.


In this tweet posted on June 1, journalist Lionel Donovan III shows the injury he sustained from a non-lethal grenade thrown by police.

Article by par Marie Genries