Journalists Detail Being Hit by Rubber Bullets, Attacked While Covering Nationwide Protests

Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

MSNBC's Ali Velshi, CNN commentator Keith Boykin were among journalists recounting being hit by rubber bullets, attacked, and in some cases arrested while covering protests.

As tensions escalated across the United States during protests over the death of George Floyd, many journalists found themselves in the crosshairs of covering an unprecedented moment with some getting hit by rubber and pepper bullets.

MSNBC host Ali Velshi, who has been reporting live from Minneapolis, tweeted Saturday that he had been hit by rubber bullets "but I am fine," he posted. "State police supported by National Guard fired unprovoked into an entirely peaceful rally."

Prominent CNN commentator Keith Boykin posted details of his arrest while covering protests in New York. "The NYPD arrested me at 96th Street and West Side Highway while I was taking photos and video to post to Twitter. I told the police I was with the Press, they walked by me and then turned around and arrested me," he wrote Saturday evening once he was released. "The police locked me in tight zip ties that bruised my wrists. They held me in a van for an hour. Then a hot police bus for an hour. Then they took me to 1 Police Plaza and held me in a jail cell with about 35 others with no social distancing and many of the others unmasked."

KCRW's Cerise Castle tweeted Saturday that she was struck while covering massive protests in Los Angeles, where residents gathered at The Grove for a peaceful gathering until the situation escalated. "LAPD just shot me and protestors gathered at Beverly & Fairfax with rubber bullets. I was holding my press badge above my head," said Castle, whose Twitter bio lists associations with other news outlets including Vice News and The Daily Beast.

Also in L.A., on Friday night during a massive event downtown, KNX Radio field reporter Pete Demetriou posted that he was attacked by protestors, not the police. "Protest in Downtown LA gets a little too close for comfort. Protester tried to grab my mic and yell obscenities into it. I objected pushed her away and I got punched by about 5 people before others intervened. A little roughed up but other wise OK."

Huffington Post senior reporter Christopher Mathias was reportedly taken into NYPD custody, according to a tweet by Huffington Post. "We demand that he be released immediately," the account wrote. The Twitter account of New York Attorney General Letitia James' Office responded shortly after with, "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We're looking into it."

In Minneapolis, freelance journalist and photographer Linda Tirado tweeted late Friday night that she'd been shot in the eye by a police officer's tracer round. She credited protestors with helping her get to the hospital, where she was rushed into surgery. By Saturday morning, she tweeted that the injury left her "permanently blind in my left eye, and the docs absolutely refuse to let me go back to work for they say six weeks. I'm definitely not allowed to be near smoke or gas."

In other incidents, a Fox News reporter was pummeled and chased by protesters who had gathered outside the White House early Saturday. A television reporter in Columbia, S.C., was hurt by a thrown rock Saturday and a journalist in Minneapolis was shot in the thigh by a rubber bullet. A television news photographer in Pittsburgh said he was beaten by demonstrators, and police in Louisville, Kentucky, apologized after an officer fired what appeared to be pepper bullets at a television news crew.

Fox's Leland Vittert was rattled following the Washington attack that he said was clearly targeted at his news organization.

“We took a good thumping,” he told The Associated Press. A live shot he was doing was interrupted by a group of protesters who shouted obscenities directed at Fox. Flanked by two security guards, he and photographer Christian Galdabini walked away from Washington's Lafayette Park trailed by an angry group before riot police dispersed them.

Vittert said there were no markings on him or the crew's equipment to identify them as from Fox. But he said during the demonstration, one man continually asked him who he worked for. He didn't answer, but the man found a picture of Vittert on his cellphone and shouted to other protesters that he was from Fox.

"The protesters stopped protesting whatever it was they were protesting and turned on us," he said, "and that was a very different feeling."

He compared it to when he was chased away from a demonstration in Egypt during the Arab Spring of 2011 by a group that shouted, "Fox News hates Muslims."

A correspondent from the website The Daily Caller followed Vittert and the demonstrators as they left the park. At one point, someone took Vittert's microphone and threw it at his back. One woman chasing him wore a T-shirt that said, "I can't breathe," a reference what Floyd said earlier this week when a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against his neck.

Vittert said he was "extremely grateful" to The Daily Caller for documenting the scene; Galdabini's camera was smashed. "They were putting themselves at risk," he said.

"It makes me proud to do my job and to be a journalist," he said. "I'm proud to be an organization that is unyielding in our coverage. We're going to keep on telling our story and doing exactly what we're doing."

On Friday, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez and his two-person crew were arrested while covering overnight protests in Minneapolis. They were quickly released, and Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz apologized to CNN.

CNN's headquarters in Atlanta was damaged later Friday by a group of protesters who also fought with police and set cars afire. While police tried to keep them away from the CNN Center, demonstrators broke windows there and scrawled obscene graffiti on the network's logo.

Ian Smith, a photographer for KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, said that he was attacked by protesters who stomped and kicked him at a demonstration there. Smith, who said other protesters jumped in to save him, posted a picture on Twitter showing him with a bruised face and bloody hand.

In Louisville, WAVE-TV was on the air covering a demonstration when video showed a police officer aiming a rifle at reporter Kaitlin Rust and her crew. She was heard yelling, "I've been shot! I've been shot!" and described them as pepper bullets.

Louisville Police spokeswoman Jesse Halladay apologized for the incident and said police would review the video for potential discipline.

Two Associated Press photographers have been hit by projectiles while documenting protests, one in Minneapolis on Thursday and another in Los Angeles on Friday. Neither was seriously injured.

Demonstrators surrounded the police department headquarters in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday and a scuffle broke out with someone wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat. Rocks were thrown and Miranda Parnell, a television reporters from WIS-TV, was injured and taken to the hospital, according to a tweet from network anchor Judi Gatson.

It was not clear who threw the rock that hit Parnell.

In Minneapolis on Saturday, a Swedish journalist was shot in the thigh with a rubber bullet, apparently from a police gun, while covering a protest, according to the Norwegian newspaper VG. Later Saturday night, a CNN crew said some of its members were hit with rubber bullets.

On Sunday, Wall Street Journal reporter Tyler Blint-Welsh tweeted: "Lost my glasses and my ankle is in searing pain after NYPD hit me in the face multiple times with riot shields and pushed me to the ground. I was backing away as request, with my hands up. My NYPD-issued press badge was clearly visible. I’m just sitting here crying. This sucks."

Updated 9:22 p.m. May 31: Added Tyler Blint-Welsh's tweet.