Around 10:30 Saturday night, near the corner of Michigan Avenue and Third Street, a Detroit police officer chased down Free Press reporter JC Reindl and pepper-sprayed him in the face. Reindl was holding up his Free Press ID to show he was working press.
While Reindl had moved away from the prime area of confrontation between Detroit officers and protesters, the officer made a point of following him. Reindl later posted on Twitter the moment he was sprayed and received calls of apology from DPD public information officer Sgt. Nicole Kirkwood and Mayor Duggan’s chief of staff Alexis Wiley. Reindl declined medical treatment and is fine.
Last thing I saw before I got sprayed. I was even holding up “media” badge pic.twitter.com/XGNN32dl1v— JC Reindl (@jcreindl) May 31, 2020
Saturday night was at times chaotic around downtown Detroit, and there were multiple incidents of officers confronting Free Press reporters and photographers.
Free Press reporter David Jesse tweeted: “One of the craziest nights of my career. Got tear gassed multiple times. Police shot rubber bullets at us even thought we were moving where they wanted us to go, holding up our press passes and yelling 'media.'”
Not far from where Reindl was sprayed, Free Press picture editor Kelly Jordan was live-streaming from her phone the standoff between protesters and a police line near DPD headquarters on Michigan Avenue. When officers broke ranks, made arrests and a few moments of chaos ensued, an officer slapped the phone out of Jordan’s hands, interrupting the live stream.
Later in the evening, rubber bullets were fired at a group of Free Press journalists gathered near the coney island restaurants where Michigan, Lafayette and Griswold come together. None were hit, through a man standing with them was, raising a red welt on his back. One bullet fell at the feet of a Free Press photographer.
On Woodward, an officer appeared to single out Free Press staff reporter Branden Hunter, who was with other Free Press staffers on the streets providing coverage. Hunter, who is African American, was with several white staffers. All identified themselves as press. Tear gas was deployed and the staffers ran away from it, south down Woodward. Hunter acknowledges he was wearing a jacket that might have been provocative, but that ultimately doesn't matter.
Journalists know there are risks to covering protests and violence within them. And we respect the difficulty faced by officers in these situations and know that split-second actions do not reflect the force as a whole. But this collection of incidents represents something larger that is disturbing.
I plan to reach out to Detroit Police Chief James Craig and request an investigation of the incidents. Wiley told me Sunday night that the city and DPD were committed to making sure any mistakes are corrected.
"We need to fix it and keep people safe," she said. DPD Deputy Chief Todd Bettison said, "I think we can do better. All of us. This (the protests) is on a different level."
Journalists across the country have been injured as they covered protests related to the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. Reporters in Minneapolis were hit with rubber bullets fired by police, and some were briefly arrested.
This is a historic and troubling time, and journalists must be allowed to do their jobs.
— Peter Bhatia is the editor of the Detroit Free Press.