George Floyd protests: British photographer arrested and charged in 'affront to press freedom'

Adam Forrest
British photographer Adam Gray from SWNS, currently working in New York: Adam Gray / SWNS

A British photographer has become one of the first members of the media to be arrested and charged for “unlawful assembly” while working at the George Floyd protests.

Adam Gray, 33, said he had been taking photos of demonstrators near Union Square in New York City on Saturday evening when he was thrown to the ground by one police officer before several other officers climbed on top of him and forced him into handcuffs.

Despite telling the New York Police Department (NYPD) officers he had a foreign press card issued by the US State Department, Mr Gray was arrested and put into a police vehicle.

He spent the night in custody along with dozens of protestors and was later charged with unlawful assembly.

The New York-based photojournalist for the South West News Service (SWNS) agency said: “The whole time that I was being arrested, I was shouting that I was press and showing them my foreign press card but they just didn’t seem to care.”

British photographer Adam Gray, currently working in New York (Adam Gray / SWNS)

Mr Gray added: “I’ve worked in many other countries doing work like this and never has it gone as far as this. I couldn’t believe it.”

The photographer had been walking along 13th Street near Union Square when he was detained.

“I walked down the street taking photos as I went and then the cops rushed the crowd,” he said. “I photographed the pandemonium that ensued of them pushing and grabbing protesters before one big cop came at me and pushed me to the ground with his truncheon to my chest.”

“I smashed into the floor with my three cameras as three or four cops then got on top of me, restraining me and putting me in handcuffs as I shouted repeatedly that I was press.”

Mr Gray said the police claimed that they had made several orders for people to leave the area before he had arrived on the street.

The photographer was put into a police van with about 20 other protesters where they had to wait for half an hour before being driven to the police station.

“I got searched, processed, had my photo taken and then put into a large holding cell of 50 to 70 people at its fullest with zero social distancing,” he said. “Police had removed masks from some protestors for their photo but then refused to give them back and did not offer any extra masks.”

Mr Gray was held in custody for eight hours until around 9:15am on Sunday, 31 May, when he had his fingerprints and photos taken. He was charged with unlawful assembly and given a ticket for a court date on 10 September 2020.

CNN reporter Omar Jimenez and several members of his crew were arrested live on air when covering Friday evening’s protests in Minneapolis. However, they were released without charge about an hour after his arrest and returned to cover the protests.

Mr Gray said: “I was really shocked when they arrested me, I was just in total disbelief … Thankfully, I do not have any injuries but I am in disbelief at what happened.”

His employer SWNS vowed to help him fight the charge “every step of the way”.

The agency’s editor-in-chief Andrew Young said: “This is an affront to press freedom and goes against every principle held dear by all journalists and those it aims to inform.

“Adam Gray has been on the front line daily covering the pandemic … To be arrested for simply doing his job, at considerable risk to himself, while chronicling the violence that ensued following the tragic death of George Floyd is frankly outrageous.”

At least a dozen journalists were injured in cities across America this weekend. CNN cameraman Leonel Mendez and producer Bill Kirkos were both hit by rubber bullets as they were covering the street protests in Minneapolis.

MSNBC anchor Ali Velshi was hit in his leg with a rubber bullet fired by police in Minneapolis, while Los Angeles Times photographer colleague Carolyn Cole was struck in the face by a rubber bullet.

The BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel shared footage of BBC cameraman Peter Murtaugh being rushed by a police officer close to the White House in Washington DC on Monday night. Mr Sopel said he had been “clearly targeted”.

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Journalists in several cities injured and arrested covering protests