A photographer was detained and another journalist was beaten by Baltimore police officers while they were covering protests against police brutality late Saturday, according to local media.
The incidents reportedly took place during a standoff between police and protesters near the Western District police station. J.M. Giordano, photo editor for the City Paper, said that police “swarmed over” him and hit him repeatedly, the paper reported on Saturday. A video posted by City Paper shows Giordano being beaten as an onlooker yells, “He's a photographer! He's press!"
Police spokesman Eric Kowalczyk told the Baltimore Sun that officers can have trouble telling the media apart from protesters during heated interactions. However, he said that police officials had given orders to all officers that the media was to have free access to the protests. “We are working to reinforce throughout the organization that media should be allowed to have as much access as they possibly can," Kowalczyk told the Sun.
Reuters photographer Sait Serkan Gurbuz said he was detained while shooting pictures at the same location around the same time. He reportedly declined to comment on the incident. He was initially charged with “failure to obey orders" while photographing police, but that charge was later “recalled,” Reuters reported.
“We welcome the police department’s apology and statement that the citation will be recalled," a Reuters spokeswoman said, in a statement. "We hope that in the future the department will respect the First Amendment right of the press to lawfully take images in the public interest."
The incidents took place during massive demonstrations at which thousands protested in the streets, calling for justice in the death of Freddie Gray last week. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died on Sunday from injuries sustained while he was in police custody. The incident, as well as the department's response to suspend with pay six police officers involved in his custody, have led to widespread condemnation and accusations of racial bias in policing.
The incident is the latest in a series of killings of black men by police officers, and violence erupted across Baltimore on Saturday, as protesters damaged police cars and pelted police officers with rocks after a day of peaceful demonstrations. Baltimore police said they had made “approximately” 34 arrests and that six officers had been injured.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake condemned the violence and said that outside agitators were responsible for instigating it.
"Last night we saw a small group of agitators turning what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration into violent disruptions," Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference, according to Reuters. "I will not let those individuals put their agendas ahead of our city's."