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Photojournalist shot with projectile, camera destroyed amid Philadelphia protests

June 1, 2020

Independent photojournalist Joe Piette was shot by law enforcement officers with a projectile that injured his hand and destroyed his camera while covering protests in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 1, 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.

Piette told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was photographing protesters as they poured onto the I-676 highway, halting traffic in both directions at around 5 p.m. Minutes later, Piette said, Philadelphia police began firing tear gas into the crowd.

“I was one of many people who ran up a grass embankment through a lot of gas fumes to street level,” he said.

Piette told the Tracker that once he was out of the gas, protesters helped pour water into his eyes and he crossed to the other side of the expressway, where there were very few people.

“From that vantage point, I had a good view of police continuing to shoot [crowd control munitions] at protesters as they tried to flee up an embankment and over a 10-foot-tall fence,” Piette said. “I took a few photos, and suddenly my camera was shot out of my hands and I felt a lot of pain in my right hand.”

After looking at his photos the following day, Piette saw that his second-to-last image shows an officer on top of a tank approximately 20 feet from him. Piette told the Tracker that he assumes that is the officer who shot at him.

While Piette was not wearing any press identifiers, he told the Tracker that the officer had no cause to shoot at him, as he was standing away from the disturbance and with no other people around him.

“The camera is totaled. The glass was shot out of the lens. The in-camera flash is stuck in the up position. When I turn on power, nothing happens,” Piette said.

Piette told the Tracker that he went to the hospital to have his hand X-rayed. While it was not broken, he said that it was discolored, sore and swollen.

“This is an attack on the press, a clear violation of the Constitution. I have a right, as every citizen does, to film and report on police activities, especially when the police are violating the rights of peaceful protesters,” Piette said.

In a late-night statement on June 1, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said that officers had no choice but to use tear gas after the protest turned violent, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

WHYY reported that there does not appear to be evidence to support those claims.

Neither Mayor Kenney nor the Philadelphia Police Department responded to requests for comment.

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. Find these incidents here.

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

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