Buffalo news crew hit by police pepper balls while covering protests

June 1, 2020

A news crew from WIVB in Buffalo, New York, was struck by pepper ball projectiles fired by police while covering protests in the city on June 1, 2020, the same night a Buffalo protester was tackled and forcibly arrested by police while giving an on-camera interview.

The demonstrations that evening were part of a wave of protests resulting from a viral video showing a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

June 1 was a particularly chaotic night in Buffalo. At one point, an SUV carrying two people who had been shot drove through a line of law enforcement officers, two of whom suffered injuries and were taken to a hospital. Blocks away from that incident, police deployed tear gas to clear the streets. In the midst of that, WIVB reporter Dave Greber and photographer Brad Berchou were caught in a volley of pepper ball fire from police. One of the projectiles hit the camera lens, but it was not damaged.

In an interview with WIVB, Greber said that he did not believe he and Berchou were targeted because they were journalists. “I think they were firing at anything that moved. And we happened to be moving,” he said. “I would hope, to be honest with you, that they didn’t know who we were. It would be a real shame that if they identified us as media positively, and then pulled the trigger.”

At a press conference, Buffalo police captain Jeff Rinaldo said that any harm journalists suffered during the protests from police was incidental. “We try as hard as we can to make sure that members of the media have access to these events. But when situations like this unfold, when we’re trying to disperse large crowds, there is the potential for media members to become part of the situation,” he said.

Earlier that evening, a protester giving an on-camera interview to WIVB in front of a line of police with his arms raised above his head was tackled to the ground from behind by officers in riot gear. A New York State Police spokesperson told the station that the man was a “protest antagonist” responsible for instigating the crowd and that officers did not realize the man was being interviewed when they moved to make the arrest. That was just moments before the SUV drove through the line of officers.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting damage of equipment and multiple journalists arrested or struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas while covering related protests across the country. Find these cases here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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