U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist struck by pepper balls while documenting Denver protests

Incident Details

REUTERS/Alyson McClaran

In Denver, Colorado, protestors gather on May 28, 2020, following the death of a black man in police custody in Minnesota. At least one journalist was hit with pepper balls while documenting the downtown Denver protest.

— REUTERS/Alyson McClaran
May 28, 2020

A photojournalist for The Denver Post was struck with pepper balls multiple times while documenting protests in Denver, Colorado, on May 28, 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 on May 25. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Photographer Hyoung Chang was covering a protest in downtown Denver when police began firing tear gas and pepper balls at the crowd, the Post reported.

Chang, who had been taking photos near the officers and had not been told to move, told the Post that the officer fired directly at him.

“If it was one shot, I can say it was an accident,” Chang said. “I’m very sure it was the same guy twice. I’m very sure he pointed at me.”

The first shot struck Chang in the chest, shattering the press credential he was wearing around his neck. As he held his camera to his chest, the second shot struck his forearm, tearing through his coat and cutting a gash near his elbow.

Chang told the Post that he moved south to escape the pepper and tear gas, continuing to take photos as he went. Some protesters aided him, pouring milk over his face to alleviate the burning.

According to the Post, Chang did not seek medical attention but is resting at home. He told the newspaper that the situation made him feel weird, particularly as it appears members of the media are being targeted.

So far, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented four other journalists struck by crowd control ammunition on two separate nights of protests and a CNN news crew of three arrested while covering the George Floyd protests in Minneapolis.

A second Post journalist, reporter Elise Schmelzer, also reported being shot at by a police officer while covering the protest. The Post reported that at least one pepper ball was fired at her feet, despite the fact that she was wearing a reflective “PRESS” vest.

The Colorado Press Association and the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition reiterated the importance of journalists covering public demonstrations without interference, the Post reported.

Press Association CEO Jill Farschman told the Post, “There seems to be a frightening trend of restraining and targeting reporters during public protests and other civil unrest even when clearly displaying press credentials.”

“Let me stay with clarity that any infringement on our First Amendment right to a free press not only undermines the safety of reporters, but oppresses the public’s access to live news coverage which is completely unacceptable,” Farshman added.

Neither the Denver Police Department nor the Post journalists immediately responded to requests for comment.

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