Documentarian pushed, sprayed with chemical irritant while covering LA anti-mask protest
Documentary writer, director and producer Rocky Romano was shoved and sprayed with bear mace and his camera was knocked from his hands while he was covering anti-mask protests in Los Angeles, California, on July 22, 2021.
Romano told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was covering demonstrations outside the Cedars-Sinai Breast Health Services Building in West Hollywood, where demonstrators had gathered to protest the clinic’s requirement that patients wear masks indoors. Similar rules have been put in place across the country in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 variations, particularly among unvaccinated populations.
“The group consisted of anti-maskers holding signs with anti-vaxx and QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theories gathered on the sidewalk by the cancer clinic harassing patients and doctors,” Romano wrote in an email to the Tracker. “Community members arrived and attempted to thwart the efforts of the anti-vaxxers and violence erupted.”
Romano said that at approximately 11 a.m. an anti-vaccine protester struck him, knocking his camera to the ground, when he attempted to ask why the protest was taking place. The individual then kicked the camera into the street, and both Romano and his assailant raced to get it; Romano said he was able to retrieve the camera before his assailant was able to kick it again into the intersection.
I was assaulted and had my camera knocked out of my hand when I tried to inquire as to why the anti-vaccine protestors chose to protest a cancer clinic. Later I was bear maced along with @Katerqburns. @PlasticJesus9 @wysiwygtv @chadloder @misstessowen pic.twitter.com/rALYP6ICHG— Rocky Romano (he/him) (@directedbyrocky) July 24, 2021
The camera sustained minor damage Romano said, and he was able to continue filming the protest.
Approximately three hours later, Romano said he was covering the main crowd of protesters in front of the clinic when an individual pulled out what he described as a can of bear mace and sprayed Romano, as well as a cancer patient and multiple counterprotesters.
Anti-vax protestor assaults members of the community, a credentialed media person (me), and cancer patient @Katerqburns with bear mace to their faces. Notice the community member assisting the cancer patient to safety. @misstessowen @chadloder @VPS_Reports @PlasticJesus9 pic.twitter.com/rKhGii6MWn— Rocky Romano (he/him) (@directedbyrocky) July 24, 2021
In footage of the incident Romano posted to Twitter, Romano appears to have been one of the first people targeted with the bear mace. In the footage, Romano can clearly be seen wearing a helmet and flak jacket labeled “PRESS.”
Romano told the Tracker his lungs and eyes were inflamed for four to six hours after he was sprayed, and it took him 24 hours to recover fully. He said he hasn’t yet filed a police report about the incident.