Omari Salisbury, the founder of Converge Media, was pepper-sprayed, hit with projectiles and shoved by law enforcement officers while covering a protest in Seattle, Washington, on July 25, 2020.
According to Crosscut, demonstrators that day had gathered in the Capitol Hill neighborhood both as part of the wave of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, on May 25, and in response to the Trump administration’s recent deployment of federal officers to the city. Tensions escalated throughout the afternoon, Crosscut reported, and at 4:25 p.m., police declared the gathering a riot. In the hours that followed, law enforcement repeatedly deployed chemical agents and crowd-control munitions.
The police response to the protest led the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington to file a motion for contempt, arguing that police violated a court order that had been issued in June restricting them from using chemical agents and projectiles. Salisbury was named in the motion.
For more than four hours on July 25, Salisbury livestreamed from among the demonstrators on Facebook. About two hours into his coverage, as the journalist and the crowd neared the intersection of Pine Street and 11th Avenue, near the Seattle Police Department’s East Precinct, flash-bang grenades could be heard going off in the distance and a line of law enforcement could be seen forming up the street.
At one point, Salisbury can be seen moving backward suddenly and shouting, “He just threw it right at me,” as officers seemed to be deploying flash-bang grenades toward the crowd.
Throughout his coverage, Salisbury noted several times that he’d been standing with other journalists, often shouting at police and identifying the group as media. Other journalists near him can be seen in the video wearing press credentials and helmets and vests marked “PRESS.”
Shortly after the round of flash-bang grenades, police can be seen forming a line and advancing on the crowd. A row of officers holding batons moves toward the group of press. Salisbury can be heard in the video shouting, “Media, move back!”
In the video, an officer suddenly advances, spraying an orange mist that Salisbury had earlier identified as pepper spray, at multiple people and toward Salisbury’s camera. As Salisbury backs away, he says he couldn’t see or breathe.
About five minutes later, police can again be heard firing munitions toward the crowd and Salisbury shouts out in distress. He later says that a flash-bang grenade had exploded in between his legs. He also says that at some point he’d been hit with “some kind of projectile” or shrapnel, which had cut him under his arm and caused him to bleed.
“We’re taking the brunt of it right now, probably even more than some of the protesters,” he said of members of the press in the livestream.
About half an hour later, as police again began to fire crowd-control munitions on the crowd, a loud bang could be heard in the video. Salisbury backs to a nearby wall and says that a flash-bang grenade had exploded near his left ear and that one had hit Mitchell.
Half an hour later, when police again began to fire on protesters, Salisbury appears to have moved off to a side street. “They’re targeting, they’re targeting,” he says on the video. In a separate video posted to YouTube, filmed later during the protest, Salisbury remarked that while walking with the crowd in front of the police line he was pushed in the back with a police baton three times.
When reached for comment, Salisbury referred the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker to his published videos.
The ACLU motion argued that the Seattle Police Department “repeatedly targeted journalists with brutal violence” on July 25. On Aug. 10, the court issued an order clarifying the initial preliminary injunction and barring police from targeting projectiles and chemical irritants at journalists, as long as they are displaying a press pass or wearing clothing that distinguishes them as members of the media.
Julie Davidow, a spokesperson for the ACLU, said in a statement that the injunction the court approved in August strengthened protections for journalists, as well as legal observers and medics.
“Since the clarified preliminary injunction was approved by the court, we have not seen journalists subjected to the same kinds of indiscriminate and excessive police force they faced while covering the demonstrations that took place in Seattle last summer in response to the murder of George Floyd,” Davidow said.
Seattle Police Department spokesperson Randy Huserik told the Tracker in an email generally that the use of force and crowd-control devices were being investigated by the department and acknowledged that the SPD had used pepper spray and flash-bang grenades that day.
“If journalists covering events choose to place themselves within a crowd where those devices may be deployed, they have the potential to be exposed to these devices,” he said.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.