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 counterprotesters, 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.”