Over the weekend, President Donald Trump made a campaign stop in Bemidji, where he told a charming story about one of the many violent interactions with police that took place during the protests following George Floyd’s murder.
“I remember this guy well, see – he got hit in the knee with a canister of tear gas, and he went down," he told the hooting crowd with "good genes." "‘My knee, my knee.’ Nobody cared. These guys didn’t care. They moved him aside.”
“It was the most beautiful thing. Because after we take all that crap for weeks and weeks… and then you finally see men get up there and go…” He faltered, making a slow-moving, missile-like motion with his fist. “Wasn’t it really a beautiful sight? It’s called law and order.”
This story about a journalist being injured by police while doing his job included several pauses for laughter and applause.
"He got hit on the knee with a canister of tear gas," President Trump says, of @AliVelshi, who was actually hit by a rubber bullet. "Wasn't it really a beautiful sight? It's called law and order." pic.twitter.com/sVvnZUft5B— David Gura (@davidgura) September 19, 2020
He told this story again, with a few more embellishments, for another rally in Pennsylvania on Tuesday.
“Remember that beautiful sight?” he asked the crowd. “The street was a mess – that idiot reporter from CNN got hit in the knee with a canister of tear gas. And he went down – ‘I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!’”
He clarified, “The one with the shaved hair… He went down, and he didn’t like it. He was hit. Police brutality, remember that.”
He also talked about a reporter being pitched aside “like a little bag of popcorn.”
“But I mean honestly, when you watch the crap that we’ve all had to take so long… when you see it, it’s actually a beautiful sight.”
"It's a beautiful sight" -- Trump glorifies violence against reporters pic.twitter.com/UAENo59vrR— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 23, 2020
A few corrections right off the bat. The reporter he’s talking about in the tear gas story appears to be Ali Velshi, who used to be a business correspondent at CNN and now reports for MSNBC. And he was not hit in the knee with a canister of tear gas. He got shot by a rubber bullet. As did several other journalists covering the protests – some allegedly stopping to help or talk to injured demonstrators.
As Velshi did not get hit in the face and permanently lose sight in one eye, he can be said to have fared better than some of his colleagues. Several journalists have joined up with the American Civil Liberties Union to sue the Minneapolis Police Department and state law enforcement for keeping them from doing their jobs – either through arrests or blunt force trauma.
On Saturday, Velshi responded to Trump’s anecdote via Twitter.
“You call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis… a ‘beautiful thing’ called ‘law and order,’” he wrote. “What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?”
So, @realDonaldTrump, you call my getting hit by authorities in Minneapolis on 5/30/20 (by a rubber bullet, btw, not a tear gas cannister) a “beautiful thing” called “law and order”. What law did I break while covering an entirely peaceful (yes, entirely peaceful) march?— Ali Velshi (@AliVelshi) September 19, 2020
It’s not exactly new behavior from the president. More than once, Trump has called the press “the enemy of the people.” At a Montana rally, he called Rep. Greg Gianforte, who body slammed reporter Ben Jacobs back in 2017, “My guy.” He’s also shared a doctored gif of him beating CNN in effigy, but insisted it wasn’t a threat of any kind.
Regardless, it’s hard out there for a reporter these days. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which is a sort of centralized depository for reports of violence against journalists submitted by press freedom groups throughout the country, has been keeping a running tally of how 2020 has been going.
So far, there have been 200 journalists attacked on the job, 63 arrested, and 10 who have had their equipment seized or searched. The year has also seen over 825 reports of aggression against the press during the recent national Black Lives Matter protests.
Thirty-three of them were reported here in Minneapolis.