Reporter Julio Rosas told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was struck by a projectile shot by law enforcement while reporting on a protest in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020.
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 on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the U.S. since the end of May.
Rosas said he was hit near Minneapolis' Third Precinct while reporting for Townhall, which describes itself as a conservative news and commentary site.
In the early afternoon, Rosas filmed State Patrol troopers and National Guardsmen stationed near stores that had been burgled. At about the same time, officials announced the arrest of fired police officer Derek Chauvin on third-degree murder and manslaughter charges. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison later added a second-degree murder charge in addition to charging three other former officers with aiding and abetting murder.
Some officers can also be seen wearing riot gear with “Police” or “Sheriff” written on it. It isn’t precisely clear to which law enforcement agencies they belonged.
Protesters, journalists and even law enforcement officials have had difficulty at times identifying specific officers during the protests. More than a dozen different agencies joined the law enforcement effort in Minnesota, often wearing similar looking uniforms.
Officials by loudspeaker ordered protesters to disperse 10 minutes before curfew, as officers donned gas masks, Rosas told the Tracker. Rocks and bottles flung from the protesters’ side of a barricade were met with projectiles and tear gas from law enforcement, Rosas said.
But instead of advancing to enforce the curfew, police and National Guard troops began to withdraw from the area, Rosas said.
In a video of the incident Rosas filmed from the sidewalk, law enforcement are seen backing past a burned-out building. He told the Tracker he had informed the National Guardsman closest to him that he was a journalist. He was wearing press credentials around his neck. Rosas pans to the left as police fire projectiles toward a line of protesters down the street.
Then the sound of another shot rings out and the video cuts off. Rosas was hit in the torso. He would later tweet a photo of a welt of about 40 millimeters in diameter, the same as some of the projectiles he saw being used.
Rosas, who was hit by what he believed was a pepper ball the previous day, said the pain of getting hit by a 40mm projectile was on a different level.
“When I first got hit, on a scale of one to 10 pain-wise, it was a 10 for the first minute,” Rosas said. “And then I thought ‘Oh shoot I need to get out of here.’”
Rosas said he jumped over a small fence on the side of the road and landed on his back. Other people in the area helped him up and asked if he needed to go to the hospital. He wasn’t coughing up blood and didn’t feel pain breathing, so he went back to reporting, assuming he didn’t suffer serious internal damage. Later that night, he went to the hospital and received an official all-clear.
Capt. Melanie Nelson, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota National Guard, told the Tracker it “did not employ non-lethal rounds during the civil unrest in Minneapolis, Saint Paul and surrounding communities.”
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which oversees the State Patrol, didn’t respond to questions sent by the Tracker.
Rosas said he would be “very surprised” if he was hit by accident because there was no one around him. But he said he didn’t know whether he was targeted specifically as a journalist.
Citing his experience assessing threats in the Marines, Rosas said it didn’t make sense to focus on him, as he posed no danger whether he was recognized as a journalist or not.
At least 12 people across the country were partially blinded by police projectiles between May 28 and June 2, according to a Washington Post investigation. One of those 12, freelance writer and photographer Linda Tirado, was hit in the left eye on the same night and precinct as Rosas.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.