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Journalists Become Targets While Covering America’s Unraveling

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 TimesMolly 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.”

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