Getty photojournalist struck in head with rubber bullet during Kenosha protest

August 25, 2020

Scott Olson, a Getty photojournalist, said he was struck in the head with a rubber bullet fired by law enforcement officers while covering a protest against police brutality in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 25, 2020.

Olsen was documenting clashes between law enforcement and demonstrators in front of the Kenosha County Courthouse that had continued past an 8 p.m. state of emergency curfew. In an effort to disperse protesters, officers fired pepper balls and tear gas, according to several press reports.

Olson told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was hit during the same protest as he photographed demonstrators taking cover behind a dumpster. He said he was wearing a helmet and a gas mask for protection when a rubber bullet struck the side of his head, tearing cartilage in his ear and leaving him bleeding and with a temporary hearing loss. He said his hearing came back about twenty minutes later, and his physical injury did not result in long-term damage.

Olson said he was standing about 15 feet from protesters and roughly 30-50 feet from police officers. He added that from where he stood, the side profile of his body would have been visible to law enforcement officers, who were behind a fence surrounding the courthouse.

“I think they were firing in between the opening of the fence,” he told the Tracker.

Because of his position, and because he was carrying two professional cameras, Olson believed it was clear that he was a member of the press. He said that there was also another photojournalist close to him.

“I think we were pretty identifiable,” he told the Tracker, adding that, since he was far away from demonstrators, he felt that the rubber bullet that hit him had been deliberately targeted.

“I was further up away from them [protesters] where I wouldn’t look like I was part of that group and there was really no one around me other than another photojournalist,” he said. “So not only I think I was targeted, I think I was targeted in my head.”

The Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department and the police department have not responded to requests for comment.

Protests in Kenosha started on Aug. 23, 2020, after police officers shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in front of his three children, leaving him paralyzed. Hundreds of people in Kenosha joined public protests against police brutality and while many demonstrations were peaceful, some buildings in the city were set on fire.

The night Scott Olson was hit by rubber bullets, a group of armed vigilantes patrolled the streets of Kenosha. Later that night, two protesters were shot dead and another man was injured. A 17-year-old was arrested and now faces criminal charges for those killings.

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

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