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Police officer strikes Unicorn Riot journalist’s phone with baton

May 30, 2020

On May 30, 2020, a police officer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, struck Unicorn Riot journalist Chris Schiano’s phone with a baton while Schiano was covering an arrest.

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.

The incident occurred around 10 p.m. on the night of May 30, while Schiano was covering a group of police officers arresting a young black man. He had been live-streaming the protests for Unicorn Riot, a non-profit media collective based in known for its extensive and sympathetic coverage of street demonstrations.

Unicorn Riot later published a video on Twitter showing Schiano’s interaction with the police officers.

As seen in the video, Schiano approached the officers, who had pinned the young man to the ground. As Schiano moved closer to document the man’s arrest, an officer appeared and waved his baton at Schiano.

Schiano identified himself as a journalist, and the officer said, “I don’t care what you are, beat it!” and struck his phone with his baton, bringing the video to an abrupt end.

Schiano said that, after he was forced to stop filming, one of the officers told him, “You’re not essential,” and suggested that he was in violation of Philadelphia’s 8 p.m. curfew. The curfew, which exempts “persons with essential duties,” is not supposed to apply to members of the media.

Schiano told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was wearing a press pass during the incident. He said the altercation was “fairly minor” and he did not suffer any injuries, but he was upset that the police stopped him from documenting an arrest.

“This seems fairly egregious if the First Amendment is supposed to be real,” he said.

Schiano said that Philadelphia police officers similarly attacked him with batons in 2016, while he was documenting protests around the Democratic National Convention, and in 2018, while he was documenting a demonstration outside of a federal prison.

“Cops here are quite proficient swatting phone cameras with those little metal batons,” he said. “It was clearly a motion they are used to making for the specific reason of not getting filmed.”

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 related to the death of George Floyd while in police custody. Find all of these cases here.

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

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