George Floyd’s death by asphyxiation marks a turning point in the history of the fight against racism in the United States. Floyd died on May 25, 2020 from suffocation under the weight of police officer Derek Chauvin. With his hands handcuffed and lying on the asphalt, Chauvin kept his knee tight on the neck of an innocent person for almost 9 minutes. He did not mind Floyd’s plea for help, imploring that he could not breathe. The event was recorded by a cell phone of a witness. The posting immediately flooded the social networks and with it the indignation of the population.
Mapping Police Violence reports 1,098 deaths at the hands of the police in 2019. 99% of the cases are in impunity due to the coalified immunity laws promoted by the unions that protect the police in each of the states.
George Floyd’s killing ignited collective outrage and for over two weeks citizens staged protests in 700 cities across the country, in all 50 States of the Union. While most of the demonstrations were peaceful, several cities saw vandalism and looting or some cases scenes of violence provoked by the police themselves when they forcibly dispersed the protesters or tried to make effective the curfew in many locations.
The press and citizen journalism played a fundamental role during these demonstrations. But on this occasion, wearing a press ID, having a camera or being on the air were not enough reasons for the police or the National Guard to respect the work of the media. Moreover, there are dozens of evidences of direct and deliberate aggressions directly targeting journalists, photographers and videographers who clearly showed their identifications and let the authority know they were doing their job as press.
The US Press Freedom Tracker, an organization that monitors press freedom violations in the United States, recorded 430 incidents between May 26 and June 17, 2020. A total of 57 cases of damage to equipment, 59 arbitrary arrests and 268 assaults (92 physical attacks, 54 tear bomb attacks, 32 with pepper spray, and 90 with rubber bullets or other projectiles). In 149 cases it was the police who assaulted the journalists.
Fundamedios compiled a list of incidents involving more than 25 journalists of Latino origin working in the United States. Fourteen were physically assaulted by police officers and eight were arbitrarily detained. Eight of the journalists are women. Additionally, it should be noted that on many occasions the communicators were intimidated and threatened in order to stop doing their work. We have recorded three specific incidents on this subject.
The first arbitrary arrest against members of the press was CNN’s team, headed by journalist Omar Jiménez, cameraman Leonel Méndez and producer Bill Kirkos in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 29th. The channel broadcasted the journalist’s arrest live and then the camera left on the ground captured the arrest of the other two team members. Jiménez is an African-American journalist born in Colombian. It is noteworthy that another CNN team, led by a white male journalist, was in the same place at the same time, but was not prevented from doing its work by the police.
La escena completa que muestra la detención en vivo del periodista de raza negra @OmarJimenez, junto a todo su equipo de la @CNN, en medio de las protestas por la violencia policial que sufre la comunidad negra en Estados Unidos es una parábola perfecta. pic.twitter.com/RhbAMiI5AP
— Fernando Krakowiak (@fkrakowiak) May 30, 2020
That same night the photojournalist Tom Aviles of the CBS affiliate WCCO was also arrested in Minneapolis, the epicenter of the protests. Despite having identified himself as press from the beginning, he was hit by rubber bullets as he recorded the police dispersing the protesters. The video clearly shows Aviles asking the agents where they want him to go, and also shows him identifying the vehicle of the TV station he works for. None of this prevented the police from handcuffing and arresting him for several hours.
Another blatant violation of the First Amendment was the arrest of Mexican-born multimedia journalist Gustavo Martinez Contreras with the Asbury Park Press in the state of New Jersey. On the night of June 1st, he was recording the violent arrest of two minors, when a policeman shouted «he is the problem». Despite having his New Jersey Police press credential visibly hung around his neck, a police officer violently assaulted him. With one blow, he threw the cell phone out of his hand stopping him from filming. He was forced on the ground and handcuffed and together with the two young demonstrators he was taken in a van to the Belmar Police Department. There, Martinez Contreras was questioned whether he knew Antifa, whether he belonged to the group or whether he had seen members of Antifa in the protests. President Donald Trump has falsely repeatedly blamed Antifa as the group being responsible for the protests. The journalist was released after five hours in custody and his charges were dropped.
In the state of California, the arrests of the journalists lasted as long as the police required to verify their identity and credentials. Leonardo Castañeda, a business reporter with Mercury News in the Bay area was reporting in the city of San Francisco on May 31 when police demanded that the protesters leave the site. Along with a group of 30 people, he was detained around 10 pm. Castañeda told Fundamedios that he explained to the police that he is a journalist, but he remained with his hands tied on his back for 20 minutes until the superior officer inspected his backpack, checked his credentials and released him.
Freelance journalist Aroon Cantu was arrested on a similarly way in downtown Los Angeles, California. Cantu claims that when he was detained, he told the officer that he is press, but that the officer did not listen to him at all. He was at the demonstration with another colleague, who was not arrested and managed to advocate for his release by showing the journalist’s publications on Internet. After being forced to stand facing a wall for about 20 minutes, he was released.
In the city of Miami, the independent journalist Joel Fernández was arrested on May 31 for disobeying a curfew, when the press was clearly allowed to continue its work.
By now, I’m sure you’ve all seen the allegations made against me. I want to talk about those for a bit. First, I apologize for my silence over the past week. My silence has only fueled further speculation. I needed the time to focus on myself.
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) June 9, 2020
Multimedia journalist Samanta Helou-Hernandez was arrested in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 2. She was taken to the police station and had to show her published articles and reports to be released.
— Samanta Helou Hernandez (@Samanta_Helou) June 3, 2020
In total, 58 press workers were detained during the anti-racism demonstrations in the United States and more than 268 were assaulted. 14 were cases of Hispanic journalists who were beaten, hit by rubber bullets, pepper sprayed or shot directly with tear gas, despite being clearly away from the demonstrators, carrying their press credential, as well as their working equipment such as camaras and microphones.
Among those attacked in Minnesota on May 30 is Reuters cameraman Julio Cesar Chavez. The Reuters communications department issued the following statement regarding the events that occurred with his team.
«The images taken by Reuters cameraman Julio-César Chávez show police officers using rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas to disperse about 500 protesters in the southwest of the city shortly after the 8 p.m. curfew. A police officer who Chavez was filming turns around and points his rubber-bullet rifle at him. Minutes later, Chavez was hit by rubber bullets, taking cover at a nearby gas station. Chavez was hit in the back of the head and in his left arm».
Three people of the Telemundo team in Washington, D.C., were injured on the same spot. D.C. Bureau Chief Lori Montenegro, correspondent Cristina Londoño, and cameraman Edwin Lopez were at Lafayette Park on the evening of June 1st at 6:30 p.m., half an hour before curfew was to take effect. They were covering live the demonstration that was peaceful in front of the White House, when abruptly the group was dispersed with the use of force, horses, tear gas, pepper spray and other chemical agents, for President Donald Trump to cross the park to St. John’s Church and pose for a photo op with a Bible in his hand.
Cristina Londoño says that throughout her professional life covering multiple protests in the United States and other countries, she never experienced that the press was a target for police fire. Evidence of this was that the three people on the Telemundo team were injured, she was hit in the arm, Lori Montenegro in the back, while the cameraman was hit three times, one in the back, one in the shoulder and one in the torso by rubber pullets.
The extreme violence used that day in the US capital against the press was recorded by ABC at the moment when a riot police officer violently beat in the stomach Australian cameraman Tim Myers while he was leaning against the park fence. The team’s journalist Amelia Brace was hit on the head.
On the west coast in Las Vegas, Nevada, Univision reporters Alexander Zapata and Fernando Rentería were shot in the arms and genitals by rubber bullets while covering the arrest of a protestor by police. The incident occurred on June 1st while they were broadcasting live. Their camera and microphone with station logos clearly identified them as press.
— Univision Noticias (@UniNoticias) June 1, 2020
Also a reporter for Primer Impacto, Paula Rosado was hit with a rubber bullet on her leg while broadcasting live on Facebook from Santa Monica, California. The video broadcasted on social networks recorded the screams of the reporter, who immediately leans on her cameraman. The reporter had to be treated in a hospital.
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Adolfo Guzman Lopez of KPCC radio station, was shot in the neck by a rubber bullet on May 31st at 6:30 pm in Long Beach, California. The radio journalist had finished an interview with one of the protesters when he felt the impact of the rubber bullet on his neck. The pain forced him to leave the scene and stop reporting.
In California as well, Los Angeles Times photographer Luis Sinco was attacked and his equipment was also damaged.
— luis sinco (@luissinco) May 30, 2020
Journalist Roberto Roldan of VPN PBS Radio in Richmond, Virginia, reported that despite showing his press credentials issued directly by the state of Virginia, a police officer pepper-sprayed him and his fellow cameraman on May 31.
In light of Chief Will Smith's comments at the presser today, here is my full accounting of what I experienced last night in Richmond. But let’s also stay focused on the important moment we are in right now and what the folks in our community are trying to tell us. @myVPM https://t.co/1PYgxIsrOG pic.twitter.com/519Mcb9SOr
— Roberto Roldan (@ByRobertoR) June 1, 2020
FuturoMedia’s Argentinean-born multimedia journalist Julieta Mendieta in an interview with Fundamedios reported that she, like many fellow journalists in Atlanta, were trapped in a street that was blocked at both ends by police to put pressure on the protesters. Despite the request of the communicators to be able to leave the scene, the agents did not authorize it and pepper sprayed the members of press and pushed them with the batons. This happened on 5th June in the state of Georgia.
Although she doesn´t identify herself as Hispanic, it is essential to mention photojournalist and book author Linda Tirado who was severely injured during the anti-racism protests following the murder of George Floyd. The last photographs she took on May 30 were of police pointing directly at her, when there were no demonstrators at her side. During the interview with Linda Tirado on Fundamedios digital discussion Journalists Conversando, Tirado said «it is a particular decision by a police officer to point a gun at a journalist’s face, but going after a photographer’s eye is a very particular choice that an office can make”. Linda Tirado, 38, has been blinded in her left eye, but with great strength she assures that fortunately she was not shot in her right eye, which is the one she uses to focus, and that she will continue to work with a new perspective and angle.
Fundamedios made an in-depth analysis of these facts and discussed it in the digital forum aired live on its social networks on June 16th 2020 called Why Violence against the Press? During this panel, the root causes of the attacks on the press were analyzed.
We have insisted that the discourse and stigmatizations of political leaders eventually becomes a reality of aggression against the press. The policies of polarization have changed the role of the media from the observers that they historically were into a subject of controversy and a target of aggression by the authorities, security forces, and radical elements of society.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a class action lawsuits on behalf of the U.S. journalists against several States demanding Courts to end attacks on the press.
Fundamedios condemns all these attacks against freedom of the press and the violations of the right to access information. Fundamedios recalls that under the state of emergency and curfews, the work of the press is essential to transparency and must be guaranteed by the State in order to inform citizens in a truthful and timely manner. The events that occurred in the United States between May and June 2020 not only violate the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression and protects the rights of the press, but also violate all international standards positioning the U.S. among the countries were freedom of the press has been seriously harmed.
Fundamedios is an organization committed to freedom of expression, monitoring attacks and risks faced by journalists, as well as the defense of human rights in Latin America since 2007. In 2017 it established a 501 c 3 non-profit organization and operates from Washington D.C. to create greater ties among journalists in the Americas and focus its work on defending the rights of Hispanic journalists in the United States. Fundamedios is one of the main organizations of Voces del Sur, a collective that reports on progress on Sustainable Development Goal 16.10 regarding freedom of expression. The network developed regional standards for press freedom monitoring and alerts in 10 countries. The shadow report has been reviewed by UNESCO at the ODS 16 High Level Forum in NY in July 2019. To learn more about FUNDAMEDIOS, visit their website at www.fundamedios.org.