Peter Murtaugh, a freelance videographer with the BBC, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was assaulted by a police officer while covering protests in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 2020.
Murtaugh, who has filmed for the BBC for decades, was in the nation’s capital to document demonstrations held in response to a video of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Murtaugh told the Tracker that at about 9 p.m. he had been on H Street in front of Lafayette Square, a short distance from the White House. Murtaugh said that some protesters had set debris on fire in the middle of the road and, in response, a line of officers in riot gear from the U.S. Park Police had advanced, clearing the street and securing the area. In a video Murtaugh shared with the Tracker, a woman can be seen approaching the officers and attempting to talk with them. An officer can be seen shoving her back with their shield, to which she responded by yelling, “We aren’t doing shit to you!” In the video, some objects, including what appear to be firecrackers, are tossed at officers.
While he was filming this altercation, Murtaugh said an officer rushed toward him and slammed their shield into him. Murtaugh said that he was clearly identifiable as a member of the media — his credentials were visible, and he was holding a large camera with a light atop it. The assault was captured by his camera and later posted to Twitter by Mutaugh’s colleague Aleem Maqbool:
Murtaugh said his camera was not damaged and that he was not seriously injured or even knocked down. He said the officer returned to their place in the line without a word after the attack. Still, Murtaugh said he felt it was noteworthy because “this officer seemed as if he was intentionally gunning for me.”
The videographer has covered a number of high-profile and combative protests in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. “I've been banged around by the police a little bit, but it’s never felt like it was intentionally directed at me as a journalist, and this one was,” he told the Tracker.
Murtaugh also told the Tracker that he was struck by so many pepper balls in the course of the evening that his green flannel shirt was “white with powder” by the end of the night. He said, though, that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries; he’d been wearing a long-sleeved shirt, goggles, and a helmet.
The U.S. Park Police did not respond to emailed requests for comment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.