A police officer sprayed a chemical irritant in Wyatt Reed’s face as the independent journalist covered a protest in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 28, 2020, the journalist told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Reed is a Washington-based journalist who produces the show By Any Means Necessary for Russian state-owned Radio Sputnik. He was covering the second night of protests over the death of Karon Hylton, a 20-year-old Black man who crashed an electric scooter while being pursued by police on Oct. 23 and died three days later. Police said they had attempted to stop Hylton after he was observed driving on a sidewalk without wearing a helmet.
In a video Reed uploaded to Twitter at 11:01 p.m., a line of police officers can be advancing south on Georgia Avenue, just a block from the Metropolitan Police Department’s Fourth District station, which had emerged as a focal point for protests. Then, what appears to be a firework can be seen exploding to the left of Reed before the footage goes blurry as the camera appears to get doused in a chemical irritant.
“Watch as DC cop targets me and sprays me point blank in the face with high-pressure mace,” Reed wrote on Twitter alongside the video. “I was displaying my press pass & clearly posed no threat. The only other person around me was the photographer you see here.”
Reed told the Tracker he felt he was targeted.
“He [the police officer] was directly in front of me and he went straight for my eyes. It felt like I got pressure washed by bear mace on the inside of my eyeballs,” he said.
Reed said he had to be helped out of the protest after being sprayed and that the effects on his vision were severe even through the next day.
“It probably lasted about two hours before I was really able to open my eyes and not immediately be screaming out for water,” he said. “I went home and basically gave myself an hour under the sink flushing my eyes repeatedly.”
Reed said his vision remained “pretty severely” affected the following day and that he worries his ability to focus his eyesight isn’t the same as it was before getting sprayed.
He said he was also sprayed at another point earlier in the protest, but told the Tracker he wasn’t as severely hurt.
The night before, at another protest over Hylton’s death, Reed had a crowd-control munition fired next to his head at close range by police.
The Metropolitan Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting hundreds of incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, hit by crowd control munitions or having their equipment damaged at protests around the country. Find these incidents here.