Photojournalist struck with rubber bullet during protest clashes in LA

August 21, 2020

Freelance photojournalist Ringo Chiu, a member of the National Press Photographers Association, was struck by a rubber bullet while covering clashing demonstrations in the Tujunga neighborhood of Los Angeles on Aug. 21, 2020.

According to a complaint Chiu filed with the Los Angeles Police Department, which he shared with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Chiu had arrived near the intersection of Foothill Boulevard and Saluda Avenue at approximately 5:30 p.m. to cover a demonstration by supporters of President Donald Trump. Officers were lined up to separate the Trump supporters from a nearby group of Black Lives Matter counter-protesters, Chiu said in the complaint.

“I began photographing the event when I [was] stopped by the police,” Chiu wrote in the complaint. Chiu added that he was allowed to continue working after showing police his media passes. According to NPPA General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher, Chiu was wearing both his LAPD and Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department media credentials that day, and was carrying three cameras.

As tensions between the two crowds began to escalate, first verbally and then into physical fighting, Chiu wrote, LAPD officers attempted to separate them by pushing them back onto sidewalks and out of the street. Chiu wrote that he was standing with other photographers documenting the scene and had just shifted to a new location when he was struck in the abdomen with a rubber bullet that he estimated was fired from officers approximately 15 feet away.

“In that moment, I felt a surge of hot pain in my body and immediately ran away from the police, and sat below a tree on the sidewalk,” Chiu wrote. According to Chiu, as police continued shooting at the protesters, a group of protesters surrounded him and helped him make his way to a nearby parking lot.

Chiu wrote that some of the protesters provided him with first aid, and when an ambulance was unable to reach him because of the clashes, a protester drove him to Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

Chiu told the Tracker that he didn’t have any broken bones from the incident, but that the munition’s impact broke the skin and left a visible scar on his abdomen. Chiu filed his complaint to police on Aug. 24 and told the Tracker in mid-December that he hadn’t received a response from the LAPD.

Osterreicher, the photographer’s association counsel, told the Tracker that an LAPD spokesperson told him on Dec. 16 that the investigation into Chiu’s complaint was “recently completed and is in the review process.” The spokesperson added that, following an internal review, the complaint would be adjudicated and it would be another one to two months before the department would notify Chiu by letter about the outcome.

In a Facebook post shared with the Tracker, Chiu wrote, “Never would I have thought that I would also need to protect myself from the police, those that I believed would always protect us during times of chaos.”

“Although you may have your credentials displayed and carry cameras that show your intent, the risk is far greater than before, as many other photojournalists on the field have also sustained equal or even harsher wounds than I have,” Chiu continued. “Sometimes it feels like, as media covering our community, we can be in danger from every direction when exercising our First Amendment right.”

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

Related Incidents

New York Times bureau chief hit with paintball while covering pro-Trump rally in Portland

August 29, 2020
Mike Baker, Seattle bureau chief for The New York Times, said he was hit with less-lethal munitions, identified as paintballs, while covering a pro-Trump caravan that went through downtown Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 29, 2020.Baker was covering the “Trump cruise rally,” which began at the Clackamas Town Center parking lot, about nine miles outside of Portland. Trump supporters were met with counter-protesters as they drove through the downtown, sparking confrontations, according to local news outlet KATU.Oregon Public Broadcasting reported online …

Journalist hit with paintballs while covering a pro-Trump caravan in Portland

August 29, 2020
Cory Elia, an editor at Village Portland and host of a KBOO podcast said he was hit with projectiles that he identified as paintballs while covering a pro-Trump caravan that went through downtown Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 29, 2020. Elia was covering the “Trump cruise rally,” which began at the Clackamas Town Center parking lot, about nine miles outside of Portland. Trump supporters were met with counter-protesters as they drove through the downtown, sparking confrontations, according to local news outlet …

Multimedia journalist repeatedly pushed by police while covering L.A. protest

September 23, 2020
Lexis-Olivier Ray, a multimedia journalist for local outlet L.A. Taco, says he was repeatedly pushed by Los Angeles Police Department officers while documenting protests in Los Angeles, California, on Sept. 23, 2020.The Los Angeles Times reported that hundreds had taken to the streets of downtown L.A. that day following the grand jury decision in the case of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who’d been fatally shot in her Louisville, Kentucky, home by police in March. Protesters were also demanding the …

Student photojournalist arrested, equipment seized during LA protest

September 8, 2020
Pablo Unzueta, a freelance photojournalist and video editor for California State University, Long Beach’s newspaper, the Daily 49er, was arrested while documenting protests in the South Los Angeles area on Sept. 8, 2020.Unzueta told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was following a group of protesters as they gathered for the fourth consecutive night outside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department following the fatal shooting of Dijon Kizzee, a Black man, by deputies on Aug. 31.At approximately 8:30 p.m. on …
More related incidents