Journalists for Polish news station were assaulted, chased out of D.C.’s Lafayette Square park during Cuba protest
Journalist Marcin Wrona, a U.S. correspondent for the Polish TV channel TVN Discovery, was filming a live broadcast on July 26, 2021, from Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., when members of the public stopped the broadcast and started to throw objects at Wrona and his cameraman, Marcin Wyszogrodzki.
Wrona told U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an email that individuals in the park repeatedly interrupted their broadcast, which was covering a declaration sponsored by the U.S. State Department calling for freedom in Cuba, signed by the United States and 19 other countries, and a protest against repression in Cuba.
The veteran broadcaster, who has worked in journalism for 33 years, told the Tracker: “First we were approached by an individual with a bullhorn who was yelling something in Spanish straight in our microphone and camera. I asked him to stop doing it, as the viewers would not be able to hear a word of our reporting. We moved a few steps over.
“Later a group of about five people lined up behind my back, blocking the view with their raised signs. I asked them to lower the signs because we would not be able to show how big the protest is.”
Wrona said that as he was about to go on air at 11 a.m., the crowd started yelling in Spanish, telling them they were not welcome there.
“They started physically pushing us out of the park,” he said, confirming that they were prevented from doing the broadcast. Wrona said their equipment displayed the station logo and his cameraman was carrying press identification. The assault of cameraman Wyszogrodzki and damage of the station equipment is documented by the Tracker here.
When the TVN crew decided to pack up and leave, the crowd started punching them, grabbing equipment, spraying water on them and throwing bottles and other objects at them.
“They were calling me an assassin (assassino) and other words in Spanish. I heard people yelling in English that I had blood on my hands,” Wrona said.
The crew managed to get across H street, still chased by the crowd, and went toward two Metropolitan Police officers on a bicycle patrol. The officers tried to hold back the crowd with their bikes, and then called for backup. Finally about 10 officers escorted them to safety, Wrona said.
“We covered at least three or four blocks and the crowd was still attacking us. Finally the police decided to get us into their squad vehicle and their lieutenant drove us away, although her car was followed by some Cubans.”
He added that some people had started posting videos online, calling him a Cuban regime agent, communist, or supporter of the Castro regime. “Some were lamenting that I wasn't severely beaten.”
Wrona, who works for a TV station that is often described as the last independent news channel in Poland, said that he knows what living under communism is like, as he grew up under a communist regime. He said he was in a group of 10 people who built the first independent radio station in Poland after the fall of communism.
He also said that there had been some “horrible” follow-up personal attacks on social media, stoked by people spreading false information.
“There were a few really tough days emotionally after the attack. But I am a reporter; I have to keep doing my job,” Wrona said.