U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Photojournalist’s jaw broken at Washington, D.C., protests

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 31, 2020


Was the journalist targeted?
REUTERS/Erin Scott

People march toward the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. on May 31, 2020.

— REUTERS/Erin Scott
May 31, 2020

An unidentified assailant hit freelance photojournalist Matthew Rodier in the face, breaking his jaw, while the contributor to the Sipa USA agency covered protests on May 31, 2020 against police violence in Washington, D.C.

May 31 was the third night of widespread demonstrations in the nation’s capital. The protest was held in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital. Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the U.S. since late May.

The evening began peacefully, but tensions escalated as the night wore on. At around 10:30 p.m. Rodier was struck by a police officer’s baton, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. Shortly afterward, he was reviewing video on his phone when a group of people approached him, saying, “that’s the police right there.”

Rodier said he told them repeatedly that he was a journalist, but they demanded that he lift up his shirt to prove that he wasn’t a police officer. It isn’t clear why they accused him of being with law enforcement. Rodier said he didn’t have his usual press credentials because they had been stolen the day before by another protest attendee.

“As I was doing that, I was struck by either a fist or a foreign object on the right side of my face,” Rodier told the Tracker. He added that a surgeon who reconstructed his jaw told him it had been broken in several places. Two other individuals intervened, took him to a first-aid provider and then to police officers, who eventually got him to a paramedic. Rodier said he was loaded into an ambulance and spent three nights in the hospital.

The impact from his injuries will be long-lasting; Rodier underwent oral surgery to repair a cracked molar. “After that my jaw should be able to finally heal for the most part, although my surgeon recently told me I might not regain feeling in my lower lip and chin for up to a year, because they needed to move a nerve out of the way to do the surgery,” he said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred 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.

This article has been updated to clarify that it's not known why journalist Matthew Rodier was asked to lift his shirt or why he was accused of being with law enforcement.

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