U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Democrat and Chronicle photographer hit with pepper balls while covering Rochester protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
September 4, 2020
Rochester, New York


Was the journalist targeted?
September 4, 2020

Shawn Dowd, a photographer for the Democrat and Chronicle, was hit with crowd-control munitions while covering protests in Rochester, New York, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Demonstrators that night had marched to the city’s Public Safety Building in protest of the death of Daniel Prude, a 41-year-old Black man who died by asphyxiation while in the custody of Rochester police in March. Details surrounding his death came to light only after police body camera footage was released on Sept. 2. The protest was just one of many held across the nation throughout the summer in protest of police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Dowd told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in a phone interview that upon arriving in the area he and colleague Jamie Germano split up, to more fully document the scene. Dowd said he made his way to the front of the crowd, where police had lined up along a barricade they’d set up earlier in the evening. At one point, Dowd said, “The police opened up with pepper balls to drive the protesters back,” adding, “We all got lit up.”

Dowd said he “took a shot to the side of the head,” as well as in the neck and ear. He said that he turned to protect himself and in a second volley “took a couple in the back, one in the back of the legs and then one to the foot.”

Dowd said he’d decided to avoid wearing an insignia marking him as a working member of the press due anti-media sentiment he’d encountered from demonstrators at prior protests, but he said he did have his press badge around his neck.

When the police officers “would open fire,” Dowd said, “it seemed like they were just spraying.”

The Rochester Police Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment as of press time.

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. Find all incidents in Rochester, New York, here.

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