U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist, colleague, robbed at gunpoint after documenting Oakland protests

Incident Details

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Photojournalist Stephen Lam was documenting Minneapolis protests late on May 29, 2020 — including the looting of this Target store — when he was robbed at gunpoint.

— REUTERS/Stephen Lam
May 30, 2020

Freelance photojournalist Stephen Lam was assaulted and robbed at gunpoint by two men while covering protests in Oakland, California, in the early hours of May 30, 2020.

Protests that began in Minnesota on May 26 have spread across the country, sparked by a video showing a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a black man, during an arrest the day before. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Lam and Getty photojournalist Justin Sullivan were walking back to their cars in downtown Oakland at around 12:30 a.m. after documenting the night’s protests.

Lam told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that they had just reached their cars when they were confronted by two men. One man focused on Lam, the other Sullivan.

“I turned around and there was another individual on me,” Lam said. “He had a hard time getting his gun out … He seemed to get impatient, and I told him to just give me a second, because all my cameras are clipped to my vest.”

At that moment, Sullivan’s assailant forced him to open the trunk of his car and Lam’s assailant tried to shove Lam inside the open trunk, Lam said.

Amid the chaos, one of Lam’s cameras fell into the trunk and out of clear view, which he believes is why the man forgot about it and only got away with one camera and lens.

Sullivan’s assailant took his two cameras with their lenses, as well as his backpack containing a laptop and his passport, Sullivan told the Tracker.

Lam added that earlier that night someone else had tried to steal his gear, but that man didn’t succeed.

“We were really lucky,” Lam said. “Obviously it sucks to lose the pictures but it could have been a lot worse for us.”

Sullivan said that they had alerted the police but had not been able to file a police report in the days following the robbery as police were occupied with a backlog of emergency calls.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred total incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas or had their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find these cases here.

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