June 26, 2020 / 12:44 PM / 9 days ago

How Reuters journalists reported on police misconduct during protests across America

Reuters published an analysis this week of videos recorded during U.S. demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, finding that some U.S. authorities moved with unusual speed to fire, suspend or charge police officers caught on video hitting and pushing peaceful protesters and targeting them with pepper spray during protests.

Kentucky State Troopers advance and detain a man during the protest against the deaths of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police and George Floyd by Minneapolis police, in Louisville, Kentucky, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston - RC2Q0H9L3Q6Q

While hundreds of incidents have been shared on social media, Reuters reviewed 44 of the most widely circulated videos taken by protesters or bystanders across the United States.

Interviewed about the analysis, Reuters immigration reporter Ted Hesson shared insights explaining, “While most of the protests were peaceful, some became violent. We were digging into the question of who might be responsible for the violence when someone sent me a link to videos that appeared to show police acting violently toward peaceful protesters in cities around the country. Many of the videos were hard to watch.”

Hesson continued, “I started to wonder what was happening in these cases. Were the officers following protocol? If the actions suggested misconduct, were officers being investigated or disciplined? I reached out to my editor, Ross Colvin, in early June about a possible article and we began to develop it from there. We also coordinated with the Reuters Graphics team to find a way to tell the story visually.”

On sharing the process of reviewing the videos, Hesson said, “We looked at several hundred videos that were circulating online and appeared to show police violence against peaceful protesters. The stunning thing about the videos were that they were surfacing all over the country, in big cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle, as well as smaller cities like Erie, Pennsylvania, and Grand Rapids, Michigan. It wasn’t just one police force or one officer. We picked the videos that had been shared widely and most clearly appeared to show police using force against peaceful protesters, some of whom were seriously injured. We then turned to figuring out what happened to officers in these cases. We called dozens of police departments, unions, lawyers, police officers and policing experts and started building out the article. We still know very little about the officers involved: they were only identified by police departments in six of the 44 videos we reviewed.”

Of the videos that Reuters reviewed:

1. Two of the incidents have led to police officers or chiefs losing their jobs

2. Four incidents have led to criminal charges against officers

3. Police departments said they were investigating or reviewing the incidents shown in 35 of the videos, a tally that includes the videos that led to officers being fired or charged with crimes

4. Officers were put on desk duty, modified duty or given paid leave in at least six instances.

On describing the overall aim for the Reuters report, Hesson said, “My main goal was to give readers a chance to know more about what happened to officers after these incidents. The videos were shared - in some cases thousands of times - and provoked strong reactions. We wanted to know what happened next and thought readers would have the same question – particularly because the protests themselves were focused on police accountability. We knew that the videos only captured part of the story and many unanswered questions remain. However, we learned in the course of our reporting that some departments acted with unusual speed to fire or discipline officers, which showed the videos themselves - mostly shot by bystanders - likely played a role in determining whether or not an officer should face discipline.”

View the full report by Reuters journalists Ted Hesson, Mimi Dwyer and Andy Sullivan, including Reuters graphics by Chris Canape and Ally J. Levine.

[Reuters PR blog post]

Media contact:

Deepal . Patadia @tr.com

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