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Times reporter recounts being hit with rubber bullets by Minnesota police

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When Minnesota police advanced on peaceful protesters gathered at an intersection outside the Fifth Precinct late Saturday, I didn’t expect them to fire on reporters.

I was wrong.

For the record:

5:07 PM, Jun. 03, 2020An earlier version of this report said Times photographer Carolyn Cole was wearing a flak jacket labeled “Press.” It was labeled “TV.” The report was unclear about what struck Cole in the face. It was pepper spray.

At about 8:30 p.m., a group of about two dozen Minneapolis police and sheriff’s deputies appeared from behind a chain-link fence opposite protesters. They were in riot gear and grasping batons.

A young African American woman approached the police, arms raised. An officer sprayed her in the face with something that smelled like pepper spray, and the woman ran to seek help from fellow protesters. A young African American man approached the officers, outraged, but another man pulled him back to the main group.

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The police retreated back behind the fence. But moments later, a much larger phalanx of officers in riot gear emerged to block the street.

That left me stuck between the police and protesters, up against the precinct’s brick wall. But I was with a group of other reporters, photographers and cameramen. The wall had small alcoves where we could duck for cover as police passed and advanced on protesters.

But that’s not what happened.

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“This is the Minnesota State Patrol,” a trooper announced through a bullhorn, notifying protesters they were in violation of the curfew and should disperse.

I figured he wasn’t talking to us, that the press were exempt, just as during the COVID-19 pandemic we are exempt from quarantines and allowed to travel. We were wearing our credentials. The Times photographer I was with, Carolyn Cole, wore a flak jacket labeled “TV.” I was wrong.

The officers started by firing tear gas indiscriminately into the street. We watched, cameras rolling. But instead of passing, the officers turned, backed us up against the precinct wall and fired.

“Press!” I shouted, waving my notebook an arm’s length from an officer in riot gear advancing through the smoke.

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The officer said nothing, just kept firing. Cole was hit in the face with pepper spray. Other reporters piled on top of me against the wall. That, plus my goggles and mask, shielded me from most of the gas.

But officers kept firing. We realized we had to run, too. We were not exempt. They were treating us as scofflaws.

We tried to move along the wall, but it wasn’t clear where the officers wanted us to go. They issued no order, just fired. Cole, the photographer, shouted that she was unable to see because she’d been hit. One of the cameras was still rolling, and my sister, who lives nearby with her family, heard me shouting on television, “Where do we go?”

The local cameraman filming it was arrested and later released after also displaying his credentials.

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None of the officers responded. Instead, they chased us along the wall and into a corner. Smoke billowed around us. Canisters kept dropping. I was hit in the leg with what I believe was at least one, maybe two rubber bullets.

I didn’t realize it, but I was bleeding from several wounds to my leg. Blood covered the face mask of a reporter next to me, who was so stunned someone had to tell him he was hurt.

We were up against another wall. I scaled it and ran to the nearest open door — a senior apartment complex that had allowed a few fleeing protesters to hide. We cowered as officers prowled outside the front window, chasing other people. I called Cole, who had been taken in and treated by a neighbor a few blocks away.

An 18-year-old protester sheltering with me gave me a ride to the neighbor’s house, and she gave us a ride to seek treatment. As we left, we passed another group of police. They fired a pellet gun at her car, which left red paint on the passenger window. Once we reached a wealthy suburb that hadn’t seen protests, police just waved us through.

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I’ve covered protests involving police in Ferguson, Mo., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Los Angeles. I’ve also covered the U.S. military in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been fired at by police until tonight.


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