Alex McElvain, news coordinator for the nonprofit community news site Knock LA, said he was shot with crowd-control projectiles while reporting during a protest in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 5, 2020.
Racial justice protests had been held regularly in Los Angeles since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Demonstrations were renewed in early September after Los Angeles Sheriff Department deputies shot and killed 29-year-old Dijon Kizzee on Aug. 31.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting arrests, assaults and other obstructions to journalists covering protests across the country.
Protesters marched on the sheriff’s South LA station on the afternoon of Sept. 5 and continued demonstrating into the evening, when law enforcement fired crowd control munitions and chemical irritants on the gathering, LAist reported.
McElvain told the Tracker in an email that he was not reporting on the march earlier in the day, but decided to go cover it when he saw on social media that law enforcement officers were deploying flash-bang grenades and tear gas on protesters.
When he arrived at the LASD South LA station on Imperial Highway around 9:45 p.m., there were no protesters but there were several dozen deputies. According to McElvain, he waved at the officers and one waved back, which he understood to mean that he was not perceived as a threat.
McElvain began taking photographs and notes at the east end of the building, but he said that the deputies shined high powered lights that interfered with his photography. The deputies told him he had to leave, according to McElvain, and one said there had been a dispersal order. McElvain said he repeatedly told them that he was there as a journalist, and asked multiple times where he should stand to observe and report.
“When I got into specifics about whether there was a PIO I could speak with, or where would be an acceptable location (to) stand that would allow me to cover the events occurring at the station, they stopped responding and essentially pretended they couldn’t hear me, and began shining lights in my direction when I took pictures,” McElvain told the Tracker.
About 20 minutes after he arrived, half a dozen protesters came near where McElvain was reporting, so he said he moved across the driveway, in part to make clear that he was not with the protesters.
According to McElvain, deputies threw tear gas and flash-bang grenades toward him without any warning. He hid behind a sign for the sheriff station.
The deputies then started firing crowd-control munitions toward the protesters, he said. He tried to leave by walking away from the station toward the street, and was hit with a projectile that he believes was a pepper ball, so he returned to shelter behind the sign. Another photographer took cover by the sign and began shouting that he was leaving, so McElvain started shouting with him.
A video McElvain posted on Twitter shows an empty street. Voices can be heard shouting, “I’m leaving! I’m leaving!” The video shakes as he appears to move across the street, yelling out multiple times in pain.
McElvain said he was hit roughly a dozen times on his back and the back of his legs.
McElvain told the Tracker in an email that he believes he was struck with both pepper balls and foam projectiles. He said he had bruises from the projectiles for about two weeks.
McElvain said he did not know if he was targeted because he was a journalist.
“I think what is more likely is that as a journalist as I was considered lumped in with a group of people — the protesters I was also covering — that they felt challenged by and thus relished an opportunity to use force against,” he said.
A spokesperson for LASD told the Tracker in an email that they were unaware of the incident.