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Journalists blinded, injured, arrested covering George Floyd protests nationwide

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Several USA TODAY Network journalists were hit with tear gas and confronted by police at a protest for George Floyd in Detroit.

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As protests across the USA raged over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd, police forces aimed to disperse demonstrators. 

In some incidents, members of the news media appeared to be targeted, by police and protesters alike. 

“Targeted attacks on journalists, media crews and news organizations covering the demonstrations show a complete disregard for their critical role in documenting issues of public interest and are an unacceptable attempt to intimidate them,” said Carlos Martínez de la Serna, program director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Authorities in cities across the U.S. need to instruct police not to target  journalists and ensure they can report safely on the protests without fear of injury or retaliation.”

Unrest in America:  Peaceful protesters lament violence at George Floyd demonstrations, but understand the rage behind it

The CPJ said it is investigating reports of attacks and arrests in Louisville, Kentucky,  Las Vegas, Atlanta and Washington.

President Donald Trump has verbally attacked the media throughout his term. Saturday afternoon, he tweeted a message that “Fake News is the Enemy of the People.” Sunday, he accused the media of “doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy.”

USA TODAY Network journalists 

Late Sunday, Des Moines police arrested reporter Andrea Sahouri, of the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, for failure to disperse while she was covering the George Floyd demonstration at a local mall that turned violent.

In a video apparently recorded in a police transport vehicle while still at the Merle Hay Mall and then posted on Twitter, Sahouri said police sprayed her in the face with pepper spray after she identified herself as a member of the media. “I’m press. I’m press. I’m press,” she said she told police. 

KCCI earlier showed Sahouri sitting on a curb with her hands zip tied behind her back. It appeared she was wailing in pain from the pepper spray. 

Another reporter who was with her at the event was not arrested but shared the same account with editors before Sahouri posted her video on Twitter.

Sahouri was released hours later and charged with failure to disperse and interference with official acts.

On Saturday night, Branden Hunter, a reporter for the Detroit Free Press, went to an emergency room in Detroit after police administered tear gas during a protest. A cellphone, which was livestreaming the event, was  knocked from a Free Press photographer’s hand.

Free Press reporter JC Reindl was taken to an emergency room after he was pepper sprayed, though he showed a badge identifying himself as a member of the media.

Molly Beck and Lawrence Andrea, USA TODAY Network reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, were tear-gassed and pepper-sprayed  early Sunday morning in Madison, Wisconsin.

Late Saturday night, Paul Woolverton, a reporter for the Fayetteville Observer, also part of the USA TODAY Network, was attacked while shooting video at a looting of a J.C. Penney in the area and was treated for a concussion at a hospital.

Tyler J. Davis, a Des Moines Register reporter, was in Minneapolis Thursday, detailing the night of demonstrations when he observed police using chemical irritants to subdue protesters. 

“I pulled out my camera to record the incident while being sure not to walk toward officers or have any other items in my hand,” Davis wrote in an essay for USA TODAY. “The officer redirected his chemical spray from the fleeing duo toward me.”

Davis said the officer “laid on the trigger for a few seconds” as Davis told him he was a journalist.

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Minneapolis Police sprayed demonstrators and USA TODAY Network journalist Tyler Davis with chemical irritant during George Floyd protests.

USA TODAY

“My eyes refused to open, and my face and arm felt as if they were dipped in a deep-fryer,” he wrote.

According to USA TODAY reporter Natalie Neysa Alund, Louisville police shoved Memphis Commercial Appeal photographer Max Gersh twice with their batons.

National reporter arrested, broadcasts interrupted

Protesters pummeled and chased Fox News journalist Leland Vittert outside the White House early Saturday.

Vittert said the attack clearly targeted his news organization. “We took a good thumping,” he told The Associated Press.

His live shot was interrupted by protesters at Lafayette Park in Washington, who shouted obscenities directed at Fox. Flanked by two security guards, he and photographer Christian Galdabini walked away, trailed by an angry group before riot police dispersed them.

“The protesters stopped protesting whatever it was they were protesting and turned on us, and that was a very different feeling,” Vittert said.

Friday in Minneapolis, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested while covering protests.

Jimenez and his crew were arrested on air by members of the Minnesota State Patrol after identifying themselves and showing their press credentials. 

“We are live on the air at the moment. … Just put us back where you want us, just let us know. Wherever you want us, just let us know,” Jimenez told police officers before one came behind him with handcuffs. “Do you mind telling me why I’m under arrest, sir?”

After getting identification information from himself and his crew, he said, “they eventually came back with our belongings … unclipped our handcuffs” and led the crew out.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized at a news conference and said he takes “full responsibility” for the incident.

“There is absolutely no reason something like this should happen,” he told journalists.  “This is a very public apology to that team.”

CNN’s headquarters in Atlanta was damaged Friday by a group of protesters who fought with police and set cars afire. While police tried to keep them away from the CNN Center, demonstrators broke windows and scrawled obscene graffiti on the network’s logo.

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Saturday night, MSNBC journalist Ali Velshi wrote on Twitter that he was “hit in the leg by a rubber bullet” in Minneapolis but was fine. “State Police supported by National guard fired unprovoked into an entirely peaceful rally,” he said.

Fired tear gas … at point blank range’

Los Angeles Times journalist Molly Hennessy-Fiske said Saturday evening that she was at the 5th Precinct in Minneapolis with “at least a dozen” journalists when members of the Minnesota State Patrol advanced toward the group. She said the journalists identified themselves, but officers “fired tear gas canisters on us at point-blank range.”

Hennessy-Fiske said they asked officers where they should go to avoid dispersal tactics. “They did not tell us where to go,” she said. “They did not direct us. They just fired on us.”

She said she “got hit with a rubber bullet … maybe two.”

Reuters producer Julio César Chávez said early Sunday morning he “was shot in the arm and the back of my neck with rubber bullets” and his security adviser “was shot in the face,” though a gas mask protected him.

Another Reuters photographer, Lucas Jackson, said that late Saturday night in Minneapolis, a man disguised as a medic attacked him with a crowbar, breaking the camera he was using to document the protests. He was “a white man with a Red Cross on his chest who came out of nowhere,” Jackson said.

Vice News correspondent and producer Michael Anthony Adams shared video of Minneapolis troopers approaching him and several other journalists Sunday morning at a gas station where they had taken shelter. Though he shouted “press” multiple times, one officer ordered him on the ground before another came and pepper sprayed him.

Photographer permanently blinded

Freelance photographer Linda Tirado wrote on Twitter early Saturday morning that she was struck by a rubber bullet  on her left eye in Minneapolis and went to a hospital to have emergency surgery. In an update a few hours later, she reported that she became “permanently blind” in her left eye but that she would continue to work.

The Denver Post said photographer Hyoung Chang was covering a protest Thursday night in downtown Denver when police fired two pepper balls directly at him.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Saturday, photographer Ellen Schmidt and freelance photographer and former Review-Journal employee Bridget Bennett were arrested while covering protests on the Strip.

In Louisville early Saturday morning, protesters vandalized a car with the logo of  news station WLKY on the driver side door. According to one of the station’s reporters, Deni Kamper, chief photographer Paul Ahmann was attacked by a mob of protesters and thrown to the ground. Kamper posted on Twitter that Ahmann was “being treated but is also ok.”

The previous day in Louisville, WAVE 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust and photojournalist James Dobson were struck by pepper balls fired at them by a Louisville Metro Police Department officer. WAVE 3 news issued a statement to “strongly condemn the actions of the LMPD officer.”

In Phoenix, a protester charged and made contact with CBS 5 and 3TV reporter Briana Whitney Saturday night outside Police Department headquarters.

The Pittsburgh Public Safety Department said Sunday that three journalists were injured by protesters. KDKA photojournalist Ian Smith tweeted Saturday evening that he “was attacked by protestors downtown” and that he was “bruised and bloody but alive.” He said his camera was destroyed, but “another group of protesters” pulled him to safety.

Contributing: Katie Akin, Des Moines Register, Kim Willis and Sara M. Moniuszko, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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