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‘I’m covered with bruises.’ Photojournalist says Denver police targeted her with pepper balls and rubber bullets

May 29, 2020

Denver police shot projectiles at Madeleine Kelly, a freelance photojournalist, while she was covering protests in the city on May 29, 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.

Just before midnight, police shot a rubber bullet and pepper balls that hit Kelly, a freelancer and member of the International Association of Press Photographers, while she was on the lawn of the Colorado State Capitol, she told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in a phone interview.

Kelly said she was photographing police officers in riot gear as they knocked down, pepper-sprayed, and shot pepper balls at a protester. When officers saw her taking photographs, she said they yelled at her to move.

She complied and started walking away with her hands up, when an officer standing about ten feet away fired a rubber bullet that hit the back of her left thigh, she said. Kelly then began to run away, and officers shot her three times with pepper balls, one landing on her buttocks, one on her shoulder, and one on her backpack.

She was wearing press credentials from IAPP as well as a vest emblazoned with the word PRESS, she said.

Kelly reported the incident to the Denver Police but did not receive any response, she said.

"I'm covered with bruises," she said. The rubber bullet left behind a "big meaty bruise. And the pepper balls left a mark."

Kelly said she believed police targeted her as a member of the media, and felt "a little trepidation" when donning her press vest to cover subsequent days of protests. "I didn't think that the U.S. police would be doing the same thing that the Hong Kong police did," she said.

Requests for comment sent to the Denver Police Department were not immediately returned.

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 all of these cases here.

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

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