U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Getty photojournalist and colleague robbed at gunpoint after documenting Oakland protests

Incident Details

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Photojournalist Justin Sullivan — and a colleague who took this photograph — had been documenting the looting of this Target store and other protests in Minneapolis late on May 29, 2020, when they were robbed at gunpoint.

— REUTERS/Stephen Lam
May 30, 2020

Getty photojournalist Justin Sullivan was robbed at gunpoint while covering protests in Oakland, California, in the early hours of May 30, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 have 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.

Sullivan told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and his colleague, freelance photojournalist Stephen Lam, were walking back to their cars in downtown Oakland at around 12:30 a.m. after documenting the night’s protests and some looting at a nearby Target when two men approached them.

“We got to our cars — I got in my car, my other colleague was going to his car — and the one guy came around, blocked my door, put a gun to my chest, said, ‘Give me your cameras,’” Sullivan said.

He handed over his two cameras with their lenses to one of the men, who also took his backpack containing his laptop and passport.

The other man pushed Lam into the trunk of Sullivan’s car. He got out unharmed, but was robbed of his camera and lens.

“The big takeaway for both of us was that we were unharmed,” Sullivan said. “The thing that we were most upset about, to be honest, was that we had been shooting for a couple of hours and we had a lot of pictures that we lost. Just gone.”

Sullivan said that they had alerted the police but had not been able to file a police report in the days following the robbery as police were occupied with a backlog of emergency calls.

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.

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