Police shot projectiles at freelance journalist Sam Bishop after he identified himself as press to officers while covering a protest in Worcester, Massachusetts on June 1, 2020.
Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
Bishop, who has produced work for The Daily Dot and Patch.com, was recording protests on his Twitter page. He told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the scene grew tense when police in riot gear began arresting protesters and dispersing the crowd using pepper spray and projectiles, interrupting what he described as a peaceful demonstration up until that point.
A Worcester Police Department press release says that officers began to use “less-lethal measures including smoke grenades and pepperball rounds” after people in the crowd targeted them.
As the protest thinned out, he said, police continued to shoot tear gas and projectiles and people threw tear gas canisters and rocks at the police. Bishop said he identified himself as a member of the press to a sergeant who assured him that he would not be attacked or targeted as long as he was not breaking the law.
“At this point, most of the crowd was about maybe 300 yards back from the riot squad officers when I went up to them,” Bishop told the Tracker.
Bishop stood away from the crowd to avoid projectiles when he said an officer, who was standing close to the sergeant he had spoken with, started shooting at him with projectiles. He believes the officer overheard him seeking assurances from his colleague, and was deliberately targeting him.
“As I'm going back, probably off to the side from the main street, I'm up on the sidewalk, it's clear, I'm alone, there's nobody else near me,” Bishop said. “And then suddenly, I can see in front of me, and I guess kind of behind me the pavement being chipped off from the roadway [from the force of the projectiles].”
“I'm close enough that he can clearly see who I am, and I can see who he is,” said Bishop, who said he was wearing press identification.
Bishop said he moved back into the crowd to avoid being singled out by the police again. Inside the crowd, he was exposed to tear gas, which later caused him to develop a skin rash.
“For a couple days after what happened my face was blistered off,” Bishop said. “I don't know if it was tear gas burns or some kind of allergic reaction, but my forehead and the base of my nose was really just like red and kind of burned.”
The Tracker contacted the Worcester Police Department to ask about the incident and the projectiles used. In response, a representative clarified that the department does not use rubber bullets. The representative did not immediately respond to follow up questions about Bishop’s other claims, but directed the Tracker to its press release detailing the department’s version of the night’s events.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find these cases here.
In a response to request for additional comment, the Worcester Police Department guided the Tracker to its press release. This article has been updated to reflect that release.