Journalist assaulted while covering protests in Reno
Don Dike-Anukam, a student political writer for the news website This Is Reno, was assaulted by several people while reporting on a protest against police violence on May 30, 2020, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
The protest was 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.
Dike-Anukam and several other colleagues contributing to This Is Reno were reporting on a small crowd gathered outside City Hall as evening drew close. The crowd had splintered from a rally of hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters who had marched through downtown Reno, Nevada, that day, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.
The mood at City Hall had darkened as Dike-Anukam began to livestream on Facebook at around 7 p.m. Dike-Anukam’s livestream and other videos from the scene show people breaking the windows and entrance of the building. At one point, a chair is thrown from the inside of the building, shattering a window. An alarm wails as a Nevada flag smolders.
Suddenly someone yells, “We got the gavel!” Dike-Anukam approaches a person in a white bandana and baseball cap. “Where did that come from? Where did that come from? Did you go in the chambers?” Dike-Anukam tries to ask in the livestream.
“Turn that shit off,” the gavel holder says. He pushes away Dike-Anukam’s phone before walking away.
Two other people immediately confront Dike-Anukam. The livestream is largely unintelligible, but it appears to show a woman covering her face with blue fabric shouting expletives at Dike-Anukam as a man in an NBA All-Star sweatshirt stands by her side.
Dike-Anukam told the Tracker he believes the woman called him “Reno” because she saw his This Is Reno press badge hanging from his neck.
Suddenly, the camera is knocked to the ground. Another video posted to Facebook shows a fourth person, in black, who was originally standing next to the person with the gavel, backtrack toward Dike-Anukam. He swipes at Dike-Anukam’s camera before walking away through the crowd.
Dike-Anukam picks up his still-streaming camera and tries to walk away. But the woman and the man in the NBA sweatshirt follow him. Off camera, she warns Dike-Anukam, “You’re still gonna get jumped.”
“I don’t care. I don’t care. The First Amendment wins,” Dike-Anukam responds in the livestream.
Then, chaos breaks loose on the livestream in a garbled, 30-second mess of shouting as the feed goes black.
Dike-Anukam said he wasn’t certain if the woman was warning or threatening him, he told the Tracker. But he knew the crowd had grown increasingly aggressive toward the press. Earlier, he had watched protesters attempt to block a cameraman from the local NBC affiliate, KRNV, from filming the defacing of an American flag at police headquarters.
Dike-Anukam explained to the Tracker he felt “a strong feeling, a sense of duty and conviction” to continue reporting.
Ty O’Neil, a freelance photographer on assignment for This Is Reno, told the Tracker he was standing on a nearby ledge trying to photograph the crowd when he saw someone punch Dike-Anukam in the back of the head. In the chaos of the moment, O’Neil said he didn’t know who threw the punch, but a review of his photographs that day showed the man in the NBA sweatshirt making a fist right before Dike-Anukam was hit.
O’Neil ran toward his colleague as several people punched and kicked Dike-Anukam, who had fallen to the ground. Video shows the woman with a blue head covering joining the fray after Dike-Anukam was punched.
Dike-Anukam tried to protect his face, his vital organs and his phone, which contained all his footage, as best he could, he told the Tracker. As he was curled into a ball, shielding himself against multiple assailants punching, kicking and pulling at him, Dike-Anukam heard someone urge the others to go for his camera.
Lucia Starbuck, another This Is Reno contributor and reporter for NPR affiliate KUNR, filmed the assault. Her video appears to show some protesters attempting to stop the attack. Someone in a black sweatshirt throws the woman who had accosted Dike-Anukam to the ground.
O’Neil jumped into the melee to try to save Dike-Anukam.
“I shoved a bunch of people out of the way, and I grabbed Don’s shoulders and he looked up at me,” said O’Neil, his voice cracking. “He had these giant eyes of fear, and that’s definitely the thing that kind of stuck with me, how awful to see him like that was.”
Dike-Anukam said: “Had Ty not jumped in there and separated the crowd and pulled me out, I wouldn’t have made it … I would’ve sustained significant physical damage.”
“I grabbed him under the arm on his left side and I picked him up. And I just started running,” O’Neil said. “There were so many people around us. Just punches and kicks and, you know, chaos.”
Then the tear gas came.
It isn’t clear if the police, who up until this point had been conspicuously absent from City Hall, fired tear gas in an attempt to stop the assault or whether they coincidentally engaged the crowd at the same moment.
The Reno Police Department didn’t respond to multiple inquiries seeking comment.
Everyone — the journalists, those who were attacking them and those who were trying to save them — all fled from the cloud of gas.
“I just was recovering from getting my ass kicked, in a daze, and now all of a sudden I’m choking on this vile thing that’s got in my eyes,” Dike-Anukam said. “Everything hurts. My head is throbbing at this point. I’m wondering, am I bleeding?”
The following day, Dike-Anukam was diagnosed with a minor concussion, he told the Tracker. As of June 22, he was still feeling the effects of the assault and planned to return to receive follow-up care, he said.
O’Neil said he didn’t feel some of the blows from the crowd as his adrenaline surged. The next day, he discovered a bruise on his chest, but he didn’t know what caused it.
Dike-Anukam told the Tracker he filed a police report about the assault. On June 18, the Reno Police Department said it had identified the woman with a blue head covering and the man in the NBA sweatshirt as suspects in the assault and asked the public to help identify them.
Police chief and acting city manager Jason Soto said that the department was reviewing video and media reports to make arrests for crimes committed during the protest, according to This Is Reno. He denounced the assault on Dike-Anukam, saying the journalist was a “personal friend of mine through the media, and it breaks my heart that he was injured.”
In a personal account of the attack for the National Press Club, Dike-Anukam wrote that his heart, too, was broken by the events of May 30. He noted the irony of a Black journalist being assaulted while covering a protest in response to the killing of Floyd, an unarmed Black man.
But the assault didn’t blunt his dedication to journalism. “I am not deterred, scared, or less in love with this profession,” he wrote.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.
Reno police announced on Aug. 5, 2020 that arrest warrants were issued for two California residents suspected in the battery of This Is Reno journalist Don Dike-Anukam, according to This Is Reno.
Dike-Anukam was covering a protest against police violence on May 30 for This Is Reno when he was assaulted by several people, he told the Tracker.
The police said Toni Sisson, 20, and Joseph Salazar 25, of Visalia, California, faced misdemeanor battery charges, which can result in up to six months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.
The Tracker was unable to determine whether Sisson and Salazar have obtained legal counsel.
A 2014 USA Today investigation found states frequently do not seek extradition of wanted individuals across state lines.
Reno City Attorney Karl Hall told the Tracker he hoped to prosecute the case and seek justice for Dike-Anukam. “That’s our plan and we will pursue it vigorously,” Hall said.