U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Freelance photojournalist hit in eye with projectile amid DC protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 30, 2020


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Protesters near the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2020.

— REUTERS/Tom Brenner
May 30, 2020

Freelance photojournalist Wil Sands was struck with crowd-control munitions while covering protests in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2020.

The protests were sparked by a video showing a Minneapolis, Minnesota, police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, for 7 minutes and 46 seconds during an arrest on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Sands, who is based in Richmond, Virginia, was covering protests near the AFL-CIO building when tensions began rising around 11 p.m., he told the Committee to Protect Journalists, a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Individuals had set some vehicles ablaze and Sands began planning how to leave the area. He was standing behind a light post looking at his cellphone when a flying object he suspects to have been a tear gas canister bounced off the light post before hitting him squarely in the face, on his right eye. The Tracker could not confirm the type of object he was hit with.

A street medic in the crowd quickly found him and put gauze over the wound, and told Sands he needed to go to the hospital. Sands walked to the police cordon and, after seeing his wound, they let him through. “I pulled off the gauze, their faces changed, and the commanding officer allowed me to pass through," Sands said.

He told CPJ that he believes the object that hit him was launched from an area where D.C. police officers had been standing. There were officers from multiple law enforcement agencies operating in the general area at the time, according to news reports. Sands, a member of Fractures Collective, was wearing a press pass at the time he was hit.

He wrote in a series of Instagram posts that he spent 16 hours in the emergency room, and suffered a partially torn retina and damaged cornea. He had surgery on his right eye on June 1.

"My retina was reattached, a silicone band was permanently inserted around my eyeball, and a bubble of gas was inflated behind the retina," he wrote. "It is unclear how much of my sight in my right eyes [sic] I will get back."

Alaina Gertz, a D.C. police spokeswoman, declined to comment on the incident that led to Sands’ injury.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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