U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Documentary filmmaker pepper-sprayed by NYPD while covering Brooklyn protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020
New York, New York


Was the journalist targeted?
May 30, 2020

Documentary filmmaker Christopher Frierson was pepper-sprayed in the face by police while he filmed a protest in the Brooklyn borough of New York on May 30, 2020.

The protest was among the many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

Frierson, whose work includes the award-winning documentary “The King” and the forthcoming “Don’t Try to Understand,” said in an interview with Democracy Now that the May 30 protest in Brooklyn had been peaceful until a woman threw a water bottle toward police from the group he was filming. He said that police began running toward the group spraying liquid at people, including him.

The Tracker couldn’t reach Frierson for comment.

Video Frierson recorded shows an officer in a helmet and face shield approaching and directing a stream of liquid in the direction of the camera from several feet away. The camera points toward the ground and Frierson can be heard groaning. He told Democracy Now that it was the second most painful experience in his life.

“I think that it’s more than the pain,” he said in the interview. “It’s just not knowing what’s happening all of a sudden, because you’re robbed of your sight. You’re robbed of your senses.”

Frierson kept the camera rolling after he was sprayed. Shortly after, voices can be heard around him asking if he had been sprayed and helping to treat him. Someone pours a liquid into his eyes and on his face, explaining that it will reduce the stinging, and wiping his face and nose.

“They got me right in the face, I saw it happening,” Frierson says in the video.

Frierson was incapacitated, unable to see, for more than 10 minutes after he was sprayed, according to The Guardian.

The Guardian reported that Frierson was clearly displaying a press badge at the time he was sprayed.

“I’d assumed they wouldn’t do anything to me because I was press and I had a camera in my arms, but I found out that I was wrong,” Frierson told the Guardian.

The New York City Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.

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