Post photojournalist credentials broken

Press credentials for Denver Post photographer Hyoung Chang damaged in the weekend protests. Photo courtesy Denver Post.

Protests over the death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer put his knee on Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes, resulted in almost 300 arrests and injuries to both police officers and protesters.

Journalists got hurt, too. 

Monday, a group led by the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition sent a letter on the harassment of at least a half-dozen journalists, some who were shot with pepper balls or foam rubber bullets and tear gas over the weekend. That's despite the fact that all of them had prominently displayed press credentials.

The group said they "write to express our profound concern over recent reports from several journalists that law enforcement agents have specifically targeted them while they’ve covered the protests in downtown Denver over the death of George Floyd. We call upon the Denver Department of Public Safety, the Colorado State Patrol and the Colorado National Guard to thoroughly investigate these extremely serious allegations, and, if confirmed, to hold the peace officers involved accountable."

The group included the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition, the Colorado Press Association, Colorado Broadcasters Association and the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. 

The incidents included the following, according to the letter:

  • Denver Post photojournalist Hyoung Chang was struck twice Thursday night with pepper balls that cut his arm and shattered the press credential hanging around his neck. Chang said a Denver police officer fired two pepper balls directly at him.
  • Denver Post reporter Elise Schmelzer, who was wearing a reflective vest with the word “Press” on it, said officers on Thursday fired at least one pepper ball at her feet.
  • On Friday, a Denver7 reporter wrote on Twitter that a station photographer was hit four times by “paint balls” fired by police.
  • On Saturday, 9NEWS' Jeremy Jojola wrote on Twitter that state Capitol security officers fired “something” that hit his backpack “just after I went live with a large camera and light.” The reporter was wearing a 9NEWS hat. He found a yellow-and-black projectile at the spot where he was hit.
  • On Saturday, Denverite reporter Esteban Hernandez wrote on Twitter: “Cops shoved me after I showed them my press credentials and forced me to inhale choking gas.”
  • On Sunday, Denver Post reporter Alex Burness wrote on Twitter that he and Hernandez, who was wearing a neon press vest, were ordered by an officer to move “toward an epic amount of tear gas … Cop points weapon right at us. We were forced back into the chaos and we both took a ton of gas to the face.” They were both later hit with unidentified projectiles.

The letter continued that "it is inexcusable  — and a violation of the journalists’ constitutional rights — for law enforcement officers to single them out for attack simply for doing their jobs in chronicling these events."

The letter also reminded the city that last September, it agreed to provide police officers with enhanced First Amendment training after officers illegally detained Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene. That also cost the department $50,000.

The letter seeks an investigation into police actions and a joint press conference so that journalists can ask questions about the law enforcement response during the protests. The group also seeks a task force that would come up with ways "to avoid a repeat of these kinds of incidents in the future."

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