Photographer hit with pepper ball during Rochester protest

September 3, 2020

Democrat and Chronicle photographer Tina MacIntyre-Yee was hit in the helmet with a pepper ball shot fired by law enforcement while covering protests in Rochester, New York, on Sept. 3, 2020.

Demonstrators had marched that day to the Public Safety Building in protest of the death of Daniel Prude, who died by asphyxiation in police custody in March; details surrounding his death came to light only after police body camera footage was released on Sept. 2.

In a phone interview with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, MacIntyre-Yee explained that she had been called in as the protest “was getting bad” and was told to “bring protection” because the police had been shooting pepper balls. She brought along a bike helmet, which she said she put on nearly immediately upon approaching the scene.

At 11:19 p.m. she tweeted that the police in front of the PSB responded to a thrown water bottle with a “volley of pepper balls.”

A few minutes thereafter, police went inside the PSB and protesters proceeded to remove the perimeter of fence barricades and advance toward the building, according to a video captured by MacIntyre-Yee’s colleague Will Cleveland. Just before 11:30 p.m., according to Cleveland’s Twitter feed, “Police are exiting the PSB with helmets and shields now. It looks like they went inside to get new gear.”

MacIntyre-Yee told the Tracker that, when she saw the protesters’ advance, she quickly moved away, assuming that they would soon be shot at. MacIntyre-Yee said she moved to the left of the roughly 100 individuals who’d gathered and thought that the police could “clearly see that I was media but who knows.”

She said she was wearing all black, coincidentally matching several of the protesters, but had tried to lean over a cement wall surrounding the building with her camera in an obvious way to highlight the fact that she was there in a journalistic capacity.

Soon, there was an outburst of pepper ball fire. MacIntyre-Yee described to the Tracker how the shooting began at the end of the police line directly across from the protesters and rippled down to where she was. While behind a cement barricade, MacIntyre-Yee filmed the scene, including the moment she was hit.

She told the Tracker that officers soon came up to the wall she was hiding behind and yelled at her to leave.

A picture posted of her helmet minutes later shows a mark where the pepper ball hit. Even after brushing away the powder, MacIntyre-Yee told the Tracker that there was a permanent scratch. Fortunately, she said, she was uninjured and continued to report.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

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

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