Two journalists hit by police projectiles in San Antonio
Two journalists said they were hit by crowd control munitions fired by law enforcement officers who were attempting to disperse protesters in downtown San Antonio, Texas, on the evening of June 2, 2020.
Protesters had gathered in San Antonio and in cities across the U.S. to denounce the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died while being arrested in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25.
In San Antonio, demonstrators were marching towards the Alamo, a symbolic site where in 1836 a vastly outnumbered group of Texan settlers were besieged in the mission by 1,500 Mexican troops.
San Antonio Express-News reporter Mark Dunphy and Spectrum News reporter Lena Blietz were on the scene as protesters gathered by a line of police officers wearing riot gear in front of Alamo Plaza, a commercial center next to the historic mission.
Blietz told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that the protest was “super peaceful.” As some protesters took a knee and one addressed the crowd near the police line, Blietz said she thought she was about to witness officers and protesters embracing — something that had happened in Fort Worth, Texas, the previous night.
A video captured by Blietz showed a man standing in front of riot police telling protesters, “put your hands up — let everybody know we’re not here for violence!”
As he said that, there is a commotion alongside several bangs and the sound of crowd control munitions being fired as people scramble to flee.
“Eventually they brought out the tear gas and the rubber bullets or pepper bullets, whatever they’re using,” said Blietz in a video recorded after the incident. “I was shot in the leg but I’m fine,” she wrote on Twitter.
Blietz’s polo shirt and hat were emblazoned with the Spectrum News logo and she wore press credentials around her neck. She said she had been standing between protesters and police before law enforcement tried to disperse the crowd, and that she was clearly identifiable as media.
In a photo of a welt on the back of her thigh the next day, she wrote: “It looks like I was standing in a batting cage.”
“The next day I basically couldn’t walk it hurt so much,” she told the Tracker.
Dunphy, who was standing near Blietz when police moved to disperse protesters, also was hit.
“Caught one of them to the leg. Free Yin Yang tattoo, I suppose,” Dunphy wrote on Twitter alongside photos of a hand holding a wooden projectile and a dark welt on the back of his thigh.
In another tweet, he wrote that he saw a plastic bottle thrown at police shortly before officers began firing wooden rounds and using tear gas. In a video shared by Dunphy that night, dots from laser pointers aimed at police officers can be seen. Blietz can be seen standing directly in front of police, filming a protester’s address to the crowd.
In a photo shared by Dunphy the day after he was hit, the welt caused by the wooden round had grown in size, turning purple and red.
After the incident, one of Dunphy’s colleagues at the Express-News tweeted that Dunphy had been hit by a wooden bullet fired by police and tagged San Antonio mayor Ron Nirenberg, asking “are you okay with this?”
“No, I’m not,” Nirenberg responded “I am asking for more information on these projectiles.”
Dunphy and the Express-News didn’t respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for the San Antonio mayor’s office also didn’t respond to the Tracker.
“It is my understanding that two local journalists were hit during the crowd dispersal,” San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said in a June 3 statement. “Although this was unfortunate, this was certainly not the police department’s intent. During crowd control dispersal action officers cannot readily distinguish between peaceful protesters, media and agitators once the situation has reached a boiling point.”
McManus added that the police department was and would continue offering journalists the opportunity to cover protests from a “safe zone” behind the line of officers. The police chief advised journalists who cover protests from within crowds to leave if the situation becomes volatile.
A public information officer for the San Antonio Police Department said they had no additional statement.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.