San Jose journalist hit with rubber bullet in back during live coverage of protest

May 29, 2020

Len Ramirez, a news reporter for KPIX 5 News, was shot in the back with a rubber bullet on May 29, 2020 while covering a protest in downtown San Jose, Calif.

The protest was part of a wave of Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality demonstrations across the country sparked by the release of a video showing a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest. Floyd was later pronounced dead in a hospital. The officer has been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were present face felony charges.

Ramirez was covering a crowd of protesters at San Jose City Hall when they were confronted by a police line. Officers declared the protest an illegal assembly.

Ramirez was live on the air for the Bay Area CBS affiliate with a camera person, who had a backpack transmitter. Ramirez was wearing a camera and holding a microphone labelled with the Channel 5 logo.

Officers began firing rubber bullets into the crowd and deploying flash-bang grenades.

“I pulled back and was actually walking back and out of the area when I got shot,” Ramirez told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “I was wearing a white shirt, it left a black mark on the back and left a small bruise.” Ramirez was live on air at the time. In the clip from the broadcast he says, “Whoa, I just got hit with something.”

The next day Ramirez tweeted: “Thanks to all for your concerns. I was shot in the back with a rubber bullet that left a bruise and mark on my shirt. I am fine. I was hit while reporting live on @KPIXtv during last night’s protest in downtown San Jose. I knew there were risks in being in the middle of that.” The tweet included an image of the black mark on the back of his shirt.

A photo provided to the Tracker shows bruising in the same area on his back. SJPD and KPIX 5 News owner CBS have yet to comment on this incident.

On June 4, KCBS Radio reported that San Jose leaders were “questioning the use of aggressive police tactics and are re-evaluating how they police protests.”

“I knew that there were risks involved in covering riots because I’ve covered several over the past 36 years that I’ve been a TV reporter,” Ramirez told the Tracker, “this is the most danger that I’ve felt in covering riots or police activity.”

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.

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

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