Individuals at protest in Tucson target journalist with repeated physical attacks

May 29, 2020

Individuals assaulted a freelance video journalist at a protest that devolved into violence in downtown Tucson, Arizona, on the evening of May 29, 2020.

The protests were held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

Eric Rosenwald was capturing footage of police and protesters outside the main police station in downtown Tucson around 10:30 p.m. when individuals in the crowd began to criticize him for filming them, claiming he was “with the police,” he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an interview.

Rosenwald, who was wearing a yellow safety vest adorned with a reflective patch that read “PRESS” and carrying a still camera, was clearly identifiable as a member of the media.

Rosenwald was first attacked by a young man in a blue baseball cap, who began to throw punches at him. The police line was about 20 yards away, and when officers noticed what was happening, they fired pepper balls at the ground near the attacker’s feet, affording Rosenwald the opportunity to escape, according to Rosenwald and video he furnished the Tracker of the encounter. He was not hit by any of the pepper balls nor did he inhale any of the powder they give off on impact.

Less than a minute later, an individual came up to Rosenwald and started screaming at him.

“You’re fucking antagonizing us right now. You’re fucking antagonizing us right now. This is a protest and we’re protesting you, motherfucker,” that individual said, according to video footage.

As this verbal attack continued, Rosenwald said he was pushed to the ground by a scrum of five people, who kicked him in the head, legs and torso before he was able to find his footing again.

Rosenwald’s iPhone, attached to a recording rig, slipped out of his hand during this attack, and someone stole the microphone that had been attached to it, he said. He recovered his phone and continued to film as he walked backward away from his attackers. The Arizona Daily Star posted video on its website of that attack in progress, captured from another angle by a journalist standing across the street.

About 30 minutes later, Rosenwald was attacked and pushed over again. During the course of the evening, he estimated he was punched or kicked 10 times, including three blows to the head that left him with large bruises and two black eyes. “I never left. I kept covering it,” Rosenwald said. “I think they realized I wasn’t going to go anywhere.”

One of his attackers later found him in the crowd and gloated about the newly forming bruises on his face. “Look at his dumbass face. Yeah, you got fucked up. Guess who hit you? Me, you punk-ass bitch,” one attacker gloated. Rosenwald posted video of that encounter to his Instagram feed.

Rosenwald said that the attacks were unexpected, given that he was on a well-lit street next to the police station and near plenty of other journalists. He said that his attackers seemed to range in age from 18 to 25.

“What really scared me, in some ways worse than the physical part, was the complete ignorance as to what the First Amendment means,” Rosenwald said. “That was frightening to me as a journalist.”

Rosenwald’s bruises lingered for more than two weeks, but he did not suffer any long-term injuries from the attacks. He filed a report with the Tucson Police Department on June 6 but said he has yet to hear back. A request for comment emailed to the department was not immediately returned.

One of the individuals who attacked Rosenwald also accosted a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star, Caitlin Schmidt, and threw her cellphone. That incident is documented here.

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 Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Find these incidents here.

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

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