MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Two members of a Reuters TV crew were hit by rubber bullets and a photographer’s camera was smashed in Minneapolis on Saturday night as attacks against journalists covering civil unrest in U.S. cities intensified.
Footage taken by cameraman Julio-Cesar Chavez showed a police officer aiming directly at him as police fired 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 that I’m filming turns around points his rubber-bullet rifle straight at me,” said Chavez.
Minutes later, Chavez and Reuters security advisor Rodney Seward were struck by rubber bullets as they took cover at a nearby gas station.
On footage captured as they ran for safety, several shots are heard ringing out and Seward yells, “I’ve been hit in the face by a rubber bullet.”
Asked about the incident, Minneapolis Police Department spokesman John Elder requested a copy of the video, which Reuters subsequently provided. The department didn’t respond to an email on Sunday.
“We strongly object to police firing rubber bullets at our crew in Minneapolis and are addressing the situation with the authorities,” a Reuters spokesperson said on Sunday.
“It was clear that both our reporter and security advisor were members of the press and not a threat to public order. Journalists must be allowed to report the news without fear of harassment or harm.”
The incident was one of a number of attacks on journalists covering the protests that have erupted around the United States after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
In addition to the Reuters journalists, at least another 15 members of the news media were injured on Saturday in incidents where police fired rubber bullets or tear gas, according to a tally by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
At least another six were hurt in attacks by protesters or unidentified assailants, according to the organization, and journalists from CNN, CBS and the Huffington Post were arrested.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called the attacks on journalists an “unacceptable attempt to intimidate them” and said authorities in cities across the United States must instruct police not to target journalists and ensure they can report safely on the protests.
Seward is seen in later footage from Minneapolis being treated by a medic near the scene for a deep gash under his left eye. Chavez was hit in the back of the neck and his left arm.
Reuters photographer Lucas Jackson, who was hit by rubber bullet in Minneapolis on Friday night, had his camera smashed on Saturday by a protester wielding a crowbar.
Jackson said that the demonstrator, a young white man wearing body armor emblazoned with a red medic cross, screamed, “Get out of here!’ before smashing the camera.
The Reuters journalists were clearly identified as members of the news media. Chavez and Jackson were holding cameras and wearing press passes around their necks. Seward was wearing a bullet proof vest with a press label attached.
Jackson, a veteran photographer who covered protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, said members of the press appeared to be targeted.
“Usually if you get hit by this stuff it’s because you are between the police and the protesters - you’re taking the risk by being in the middle,” Jackson said. “During this they are actually aiming at us.”
Writing by Leela de Kretser; Editing by Daniel Wallis
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