Three Lantern journalists were pepper-sprayed by Columbus Police after they repeatedly identified themselves as members of the news media.

The Lantern was covering a demonstration that moved north on North High Street which originated at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. There was little police presence as curfew began in the city and the protesters passed Ohio State’s campus. 

After the protesters made it to the intersection of Lane Avenue and North High Street — 25 minutes into the citywide curfew — a large police presence entered behind the demonstration and officers began to push through the crowd using pepper spray to disperse the protesters. 

As the protesters quickly vacated the intersection in all directions, The Lantern journalists immediately and repeatedly identified themselves as members of the news media to Columbus Police. News media is exempt from the city’s curfew, according to the order released by Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther Saturday.

At that point, our reporters were not immediately near protesters and were approached from multiple directions by police officers telling them to “go home” because of the curfew. Our reporters continued to film and identify themselves as members of the news media, who are exempt from the curfew.

A group of police officers continued to yell over our reporters, saying they “don’t care” and “get inside.” The officers also threatened our reporters with arrest.

Multiple officers forcefully pushed at least one of our reporters and proceeded to spray all three at point-blank range and continued as our reporters retreated backwards. Our reporters were holding press passes in the air and repeating they were members of the news media.

On Twitter Sunday, Ginther said some of the Columbus Police action during Saturday’s protest was “aggressive” and that he was “proactively addressing these incidents.” Ginther has since deleted the tweet following criticisms of the city’s leadership by the Fraternal Order of Police president, who said the leadership had “created more tension” and that Columbus residents and police deserve better leadership.

Also on Saturday, Columbus’ chief legal counsel Zach Klein wrote on Twitter that he would soon have “concrete calls for action” to address how Columbus handled the weekend’s protests.

“For generations, our residents have called for change. As it relates to the Columbus Police Division, that means addressing systematic racism impacting the Black community and the way we police our community,” Klein said.

Our reporters quickly made it to safety.