As riots broke out in the days following the killing of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, a number of journalists who ran into the violence became quick targets for both the protesters and police. Floyd was seen in a video that went viral following his death. It showed a police officer, who has since been arrested, with his leg on Floyd’s neck. Floyd is seen repeatedly telling the officer “I can’t breathe” before ultimately dying as a result of being under the officer’s knee for several grueling minutes.
Journalists across the country ran to deliver on the ground information to the American people as many who were angered by the injustice took the streets. In Minneapolis, Townhall.com’s Julio Rosas reported on the front lines as buildings burned, looters ransacked local businesses, and police and rioters engaged in a standoff. The situation was tense, Rosas told Fox News host Laura Ingraham Friday night. Rosas shared that he had been caught in the crossfire while reporting and was hit with a nonlethal rubber bullet. “I’m not too happy about it, obviously. I was off to the side. I wasn’t close to them. And I was doing what I’m doing right now. I was reporting on it. I understand it’s a very tense situation but, like I said, I wasn’t near them, I was off to the side and they still decided to shoot me. I’m just glad I didn’t get hit in the face,” Rosas told Ingraham.
In Washington, D.C., as protesters took to the White House Friday, the U.S. Secret Service swiftly put the building on lockdown as the protests grew. Fox News’ Leland Vittert was on the scene with a camera crew. During a live report, Vittert was drowned out by protesters shouting “F—- Fox News” who chased him out of the area. Vittert has covered some of the most intense riots across the globe throughout his decorated career. He was in Egypt, Libya, the West Bank, Eastern Ukraine. “This was the scariest situation I’ve been in since I got chased out of Tahrir Square by a mob, and this was equally scary,” Vittert said of Friday’s attack.
The CNN building in Atlanta also became a target of rioters who broke glass windows and defaced the building. A reporter who was inside the building at the time showed the scene at its height when the violent group threw a stun grenade into the building.
A local reporter in Louisville, Kentucky was doing a live report when she was approached by police in riot gear who shot rubber bullets at her and her team. It was clear she was a reporter and just trying to do her job.
As things progress, the American people still have many unanswered questions. With any perspective: journalists, police, and government officials, there doesn’t appear to be a united strategy. That was all too clear when in one frame a CNN reporter was being arrested for what appeared to be nothing and in another frame, police were protecting CNN reporters inside their office that was under attack.
According to the German Marshall Fund’s project “Alliance for Securing Democracy,” China was the second highest country since the death of George Floyd to have tweeted out messages that included the hashtag “#GeorgeFloyd’. Some of the top retweets the project found were sourced from the Global Times, an English version of the People’s Daily (A Chinese government-backed newspaper). Another trending hashtag in the last few days is “#الولايات_المتحدة” (Arabic for United States) by CGTN Arabic. CGTN (China Global Television Network) is a state-owned media outlet of the Communist Party of China and many tweets associated with this hashtag on their Arabic affiliate have been associated with the Floyd riots.
Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, tweeted on May 30th “I can’t breathe” over a snapshot of a tweet the US State Department spokeswoman made about the Hong Kong protests. It’s been retweeted over 9,000 times and has more than 45,000 likes. In the days since, she’s posted solely about the riots in the United States using an article from RT (Russia’s state-owned newspaper) titled, “American in crisis: Days of rage sweep US cities” and retweeted a part of Moussa Faki Mahamat’s (Prime Minister of Chad) full statement on the death of George Floyd.
“I can’t breathe.” pic.twitter.com/UXHgXMT0lk— Hua Chunying 华春莹 (@SpokespersonCHN) May 30, 2020
The sudden interest in American social justice may come as a surprise to some, but experts realize the nature of China’s messaging is designed to agitate, distract, and provoke. In late May, just before George Floyd’s death, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) proposed a controversial Hong Kong national security law that would inevitably be forced onto Hong Kong upon its passing. When passed, the law will effectively end Hong Kong’s autonomy, and any associated freedoms. The legislation states that criticism of the Chinese government is a punishable offense, among other harsher restrictions on the people of Hong Kong. Dennis Kwok, a Hong Kong Legislator, said “this is the end of Hong Kong. This is the end of one country, two systems. Make no mistake about it.” In response, the State Department warned it may rescind The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, stripping away its special trade status. The act requires an annual assessment of Hong Kong’s autonomy, which may be delayed until the NPC decides what to do in the coming weeks.
These tweets, combined with a massive flood of others originating from China are meant to weaken the moral argument for U.S. retaliatory action against China in the eyes of the world. The approach conflates two completely unrelated issues and attempts to undermine the validity of a U.S. democratic agenda abroad. For pushing this narrative, China is incredibly hypocritical, considering their abysmal record on human rights and their ongoing inhumane treatment of ethnic and religious minorities. China is exploiting anger, sadness, and racial tension in America to pursue its own authoritative political agenda, which may strip millions of Hong Kongers of their civil liberties.
At least eight people, including journalists, were arrested and released last Thursday in Moscow for protesting the arrest of Illya Azar, a Russian journalist and activist who works for the outlet Novaya Gazeta. Azar held his own protest against the detention of Vladimir Vorontsov, founder of the media project Police Ombudsman which exposes issues with Russian law enforcement. He was charged with extorting the equivalent of $4100 “from a former Moscow police officer in exchange for ‘the non-proliferation of personal photographs,’ and will remain in a pre-trial detention center until July 6.” He denied the accusations, citing this case was brought over “revenge for his public activities in defending the labor rights of ordinary police officers.”
While Russia is looking to control social unrest on its watch, especially during the outbreak of coronavirus, there’s prior evidence that shows Russia has dedicated efforts toward exacerbating protests in the United States. And if those can distract from public tensions in Russia, even better. Russians created a fake Black Lives Matter Facebook page in 2016 after the death of Philando Castile in Minneapolis that had hundreds of thousands of followers (it’s unclear how many were American, paid for, or fake) and they seem to be inflaming US-based riots once again.
More of Susan Rice speculating on CNN that Russia is fueling US protests: “I would not be surprised to learn that they have fomented some of these extremists on both sides using social media. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are funding it in some way, shape, or form.” pic.twitter.com/qLGdZuxBuo— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) May 31, 2020
Susan Rice said the current protests: “I would not be surprised to learn that they [Russia] have fomented some of these extremists on both sides using social media.” Politico reported that, “over the last three days, Chinese ambassadors, Russian-backed news outlets and others with ties to Russia and China have tweeted more than 1,200 times about the United States, often using hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #Minneapolis…” RT en Espanol (Russia’s state-backed media outlet) tweeted on May 30th, which has been retweeted over 1,300 times, a video of Malcom X with the description: “They hit you with their club and accuse you of attacking them. More than 50 years ago, activist Malcom X accused the US police of mistreating African Americans. Has the situation in that country changed?”