LA journalists endure police violence during George Floyd protests

AP photojournalists John Minchillo and Julio Cortez cover continued demonstrations in reaction to the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., May 31, 2020. Picture taken May 31, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Lucas Jackson.

Journalists nationwide were on the streets covering protests after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Many are still nursing wounds inflicted by police, including LA Times photographer Carolyn Cole and reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske.

The two say they had pepper spray and tear gas thrown at them, that Hennessy-Fiske was shot in the leg with a rubber bullet, while Cole temporarily lost her vision. 

Cole says on Saturday night, she and identifiable reporters, photographers and camera crew were standing on a sidewalk far away from protestors — when Minnesota State Patrol shot tear gas and rubber bullets at them. 

“We were all in a group. We all had our flak jackets on, our helmets. We had press IDs. We were all in a very specific group together, along the side of the wall where we're supposed to be standing off … and they just came straight at us with full force,” she says. 

Cole was hit on the left side of her face. She was wearing a gas mask, helmet and goggles.

In the days since, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued an apology to journalists who were attacked by police. So far, there’s no word from local law enforcement. 

Cole doesn’t blame local law enforcement, but she is confused as to why journalists were hit. 

“I can't say specifically that they are targeting us. I know that [journalists] are always in a dangerous situation … between law enforcement and protesters. So, you know, could they see us? I mean, I assume that they could. We were all shouting that we were the press. What's in their mind? I have no idea. I doubt that they were ordered to fire on the press, but I think they were just ordered to clear the streets. And if we were there, that was part of it.”

However, violent incidents won’t stop Cole from doing her job.

“I've been doing this for 35 years — 25 years at the Los Angeles Times. There's never compensation for difficult working conditions. We don't do this for the pay. ... We do it because we believe in what our job is, to be the witness for what's happening,” she says. 

In LA, KCRW’s own reporter Cerise Castle was shot with a rubber bullet over the weekend.

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Kathryn Barnes