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.
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.
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.