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Reports of Violence Against Journalists Mount as U.S. Protests Intensify

8:05 pm ET June 1, 2020 (Dow Jones) Print

By Benjamin Mullin

Journalists covering the unrest in major U.S. cities stemming from the death of George Floyd are coming into harm’s way, with dozens claiming they have been beaten, chased or even shot at while on the job.

Reports of run-ins with protesters or police have come from media outlets of all types, from national TV channels such as CNN and Fox News to newspapers and local news operations.

There have been at least 100 reports of violence against journalists covering the protests over the past four days or so, said Joel Simon, executive director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, which is evaluating the claims. Many journalists said the incidents occurred after they had identified themselves as members of the press.

“I have not heard previously in the United States of journalists consistently alleging that they have been targeted with violence even after identifying themselves as journalists,” Mr. Simon said.

Garrett Haake, a correspondent for MSNBC and NBC News, said he still has several welts from unidentified projectiles that were fired at him Sunday night by what he thinks were U.S. Park Police officers in Washington, D.C. Mr. Haake said he and his camera crew were trying to move away from police officers, who were clearing a street near the White House, when he felt a sharp pain in his lower back.

He said the projectiles felt like rubber pellets. Mr. Haake and his team were also hit by eggs thrown by protesters on Sunday night, he said. “The police were trying to clear that intersection using the tools at their disposal. And we got stuck in the middle,” Mr. Haake said. “That’s the nature of the job.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Park Police declined to comment.

Big crowds have taken to the streets in major cities across the country to express anger about the death of Mr. Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer kept his knee pressed into his neck. The incident was captured on video. Journalists who had been focused squarely on the coronavirus pandemic for months turned their lens on the protests, which have turned unruly, especially in the later hours.

MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi said he was covering a protest in Minneapolis Saturday night when police officers began launching tear gas canisters near his crew. Mr. Velshi said that he and his crew were moving backward after he was hit by a projectile.

A spokesman for the Minnesota State Patrol had no comment. The state patrol released a statement on Sunday advising members of the press to display their credentials prominently to avoid being confused with protesters.

In some cases, journalists said they were targeted because of the outlets they worked for. Leland Vittert, a reporter for Fox News, said protesters near the White House early Saturday morning began chasing his camera crew and pelting them with objects after a member of the crowd identified them as Fox News employees.

Mr. Vittert said that the crowd of protesters destroyed some of the crew’s equipment and harassed them until they reached safety a few minutes later.

“He found a picture of me on Fox News, said, ‘This is the guy who works for Fox News,’ and the group attacked,” Mr. Vittert said.

In a statement, Fox News Media Chief Executive Suzanne Scott denounced the attack on Mr. Vittert.

“We strongly condemn these actions against Fox News Media reporting teams as well as all other reporters from any media outlets who are simply trying to do their jobs and report the news during an extraordinary time in our country’s history,” Ms. Scott said.

Fox News and Wall Street Journal parent News Corp share common ownership.

A Wall Street Journal reporter, Tyler Blint-Welsh, said on Twitter Sunday night that officers from the New York City Police Department hit him in the face multiple times with their riot shields, causing him to hurt his ankle and break his glasses.

Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Matt Murray said in an email to employees Monday that the Journal was taking “appropriate steps with authorities.”

A spokesman for the New York Police Department said police are looking into the allegation.

“The incident, sadly, is the latest of many across the country in recent days in which we have seen journalists injured, and in some cases targeted, and a reminder of the dangers we face covering the story,” Mr. Murray said.

Chaotic situations such as the protests stemming from Mr. Floyd’s death increase the likelihood of clashes between police, protesters and journalists for a variety of reasons, said Richard Morman, a longtime police officer and chief executive of Concentric Risk Solutions, a security consulting firm.

Police officers can sometimes have difficulty distinguishing between journalists and protesters when the two get mixed together in a large and unruly crowd, Mr. Morman said. To reduce the chance of incidental violence, reporters should identify themselves clearly, stay in touch with public information officers at the protest and stay in designated media areas where appropriate, he said.

Reporters at CNN and Vice Media were arrested in Minneapolis in recent days while covering the protests there.

Omar Jimenez, a correspondent for CNN, was taken into custody on live TV with his crew on Friday and quickly released after CNN President Jeff Zucker intervened by calling Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Mr. Jimenez described the arrest as “surreal” in an interview, adding that he remained calm by staying in “reporter mode” and asking questions.

Alzo Slade, a reporter for Vice Media, said he was arrested with his colleagues on Saturday, fingerprinted and released after 45 minutes. Mr. Slade said that the police officer said he was being arrested for breaking curfew, even after a police officer reviewed his press credential.

Write to Benjamin Mullin at Benjamin.Mullin@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 01, 2020 20:05 ET (00:05 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

By Ricardo Lezama

Learn more about me in my website, but if you must know, I am a computational linguist through industry work and write about things that affect Chicano/Mexican community everywhere.

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