SAG-AFTRA Condemns Police Attack on Louisville Journalists Covering Protest

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SAG-AFTRA is condemning a Friday night attack by a police officer on two of its member journalists who were covering a protest in Louisville, Ky.

“Last night, a Louisville, KY police officer aimed and fired pepper balls at WAVE3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust and photographer James Dobson,” the union said Saturday. “Rust and Dobson are professional journalists represented by SAG-AFTRA who were on assignment covering protests arising out of the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.”

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“When the officer fired on them, they were following police instructions, behind police lines, and were not interfering with police activity,” SAG-AFTRA added. “Both Rust and Dobson were obviously in performance of their duties as journalists. They were carrying professional production equipment and Rust was wearing a bright yellow reflective vest.”

Taylor was fatally shot by Louisville Metro Police Department officers on March 13 at her apartment in Louisville while officers were serving a “no-knock warrant.” Floyd died on May 25 after a Minneapolis police office was captured on video pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck as the handcuffed 46-year-old Floyd repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe.”

On Friday night as WAVE-TV was on air, Rust was heard yelling off-camera: “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!” Video showed a police officer aiming directly at the camera crew, as Rust described the projectiles as “pepper bullets.”

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Louisville police spokeswoman Jessie Halladay had apologized for the attack: “I want to apologize. It’s not something that should have occurred if she was singled out as a reporter.”

SAG-AFTRA said, “SAG-AFTRA condemns the reprehensible actions of this police officer who, without provocation or justification, fired upon journalists who were doing their jobs. The assault also had a traumatizing effect on viewers at home who watched the officer aim and fire repeatedly during the live broadcast. This was a brazen attack on two unarmed citizens. It is also an attack on our democracy and the people’s right to know how those on whom we confer power are using that power.”

“Whether perpetrated by the public or by the state, acts of violence on journalists bringing news to the communities they serve are a betrayal of our nation’s founding principle that a free press is necessary for the maintenance of a free government.  ​As citizens of this democratic nation, and as a labor union representing broadcast journalists and other media professionals, SAG-AFTRA unequivocally champions the First Amendment rights of journalists to gather information and report the truth. We stand with any journalist who finds his or her ability to report on our government challenged or compromised.”

Here’s video of the incident:

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