Freelance journalist Linda Tirado was hit in the face with a foam bullet around midnight of May 30, breaking her goggles and left her permanently blind in one eye.
In an interview on Sunday, Tirado said, “There were protesters behind me, police in front of me, but you can see from the clarity of the photo that there wasn’t gas around us.”
“There’s no way that they could have mistaken me — with a professional camera — for anything but working press,” she added.
Tirado decided to sue the City of Minneapolis, its police chief and others over her permanent injury.
According to the US Press Freedom Tracker, a nonprofit organization that tracks violent incidents against journalists, she is just one of the many journalists who were assaulted, arrested or harassed by law enforcement as they cover the nationwide protests over George Floyd’s untimely death.
The The Press Freedom Tracker verified more than 400 incidents across 60 cities.
Rather than their own safety concerns, reporters have repeatedly said they want attention to be focused on the communities they cover.
Yet recent incidents provoked concern from a range of advocacy groups.
Freedom of the Press Foundation advocacy director Parker Higgins said in a statement, “Journalists have a clear First Amendment right to cover public events.”
Sidley Austin attorney Tai-Heng Cheng, who took on Tirado’s case pro bono, said that this case could have a significant impact for all journalists working to deliver reports to the American public from the ground amid protests.
“The US Constitution is clear: you simply do not shoot journalists covering civil protests. It is fundamentally un-American,” Cheng expressed. “And we brought this lawsuit for Linda because it’s really important, we think, to establish that principle.”
Tirado said that freelance journalists took additional risks when covering protests as permanent newsroom jobs disappear, leaving them without protection such as health care from an employer.
“As a freelancer without the protections of a press desk and the attorneys that would come with a network or a news masthead — freelancers are certainly left to themselves,” Tirado said.
“I’m definitely going to be looking at surgery bills for at least the next few months.I just got the first bills rolling in, and they’re pretty big, so we’ll see how this goes. ”