U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Unicorn Riot reporter assaulted by crowd defending Columbus statue in Philadelphia

Incident Details

June 14, 2020

A reporter for nonprofit media outlet Unicorn Riot was hit repeatedly while he filmed protesters who said they were defending a statue of Christopher Columbus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on June 14, 2020.

The night before, on June 13, a group of vigilantes had gathered at South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza to defend its Columbus statue. Monuments of the Italian explorer and other figures across the country had been toppled or vandalized during continuing protests sparked by the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. That evening, Schiano had filmed a group of men carrying bats and guns at the statue before he was assaulted and had his bike tires slashed.

On June 14, a much larger crowd of demonstrators claiming to defend the statue converged on Marconi Plaza, drawing counterprotesters. Schiano said when he arrived in the late afternoon, police were trying to separate the two sides but failed to keep them apart, resulting in several heated confrontations.

In one video Unicorn Riot shared on Twitter that night, Schiano asks a man if he can tell him what was going on.

“How about I beat you the fuck up? Get the fuck out of here,” says the man before walking away.

Another man sitting next to Schiano then says: “Listen, you’re not supposed to be here, like, videoing everyone, you know what I’m saying?”

It then appears Schiano is repeatedly hit by different members of the group surrounding him over the course of 30 seconds. Schiano said his camcorder was smashed into a tree by one of the people in the group, damaging the equipment.

Footage from a 6abc Action News reporter captured part of the incident, showing a crowd converging on Schiano and attacking him as he filmed. “Kill him!” a voice can be heard shouting. “That’s the one from yesterday!” another voice yells as Schiano is punched and shoved.

In video footage from the aftermath of the incident, members of the crowd can be heard taunting Schiano and threatening bodily harm as police officers intervene to keep them away from the reporter.

Like the previous evening, the assaults on Schiano appeared to come from members of the group that said they were there to protect the Columbus statue.

Schiano told the Tracker that at another point, he was standing near a police officer when a man came and tackled him to the ground. He added that at several points, people in the crowd tried to take his phone from him.

“I was standing within inches of a cop when this happened, too, who didn’t do anything,” he said.

He added that he also saw assaults on counterprotesters by members of the group purporting to defend the statue that didn’t attract police intervention.

The Philadelphia Police Department declined to comment on the incident.

Schiano said he tried to leave the plaza several times that evening, only to realize he was being followed, at which point he decided to stay, he said.

Schiano said he has covered dangerous and traumatic events previously, like the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017, where he was also attacked.

“This felt like that,” he said. “It was like the stress and adrenaline of things I’ve experienced before, but dialed up to 1,000.”

He told the Tracker that he had slight swelling on his lip where he got punched and “serious bruising” under his right arm from the blows he received.

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.

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