On June 13, 2020, Unicorn Riot reporter Chris Schiano was physically assaulted and saw his bike’s tires slashed while filming protesters who claimed to be protecting a statue of Christopher Columbus in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
After statues — including some depicting Christopher Columbus — were toppled or vandalized in cities across the country during protests over the police killing of George Floyd, a group of individuals stationed themselves at South Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza on June 13 saying they were protecting the Columbus statue there.
Schiano told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he headed to Marconi Plaza after he saw a brief news article online that featured a photo of an armed man by the statue. Upon arriving on his bicycle, Schiano was quickly confronted by men asking who he was and what he was doing. He said he attempted to calm the situation and explained he was there as a journalist. However, he was assaulted within minutes of his arrival after he took out his camcorder and began filming.
In one video Unicorn Riot tweeted that evening, Schiano appeared to be in a confrontation with several men who had come to the statue.
“Sir, I’m just here taking a video of you with your bat,” says Schiano. “You’re here at the Columbus statue with a bat. That seems newsworthy to me. That’s all. Any of you guys want to tell me why you’re out here today?”
One man tells him that they are there “protecting history.” Then, the man with a bat Schiano was originally addressing begins taunting him, saying “look at you, you’re fucking shaking. How scared are you?” As he says that somebody else appears to hit Schiano.
In a second video, a man in a red-shirt walks up to Schiano holding a baseball bat and appears to slap him. About 14 seconds later, Schiano says “this guy just hit me in the head” and the camera pans to a man in the group surrounding Schiano hauling away his bicycle. Schiano can be heard asking for his bicycle to be returned before the camera shakes violently and there are sounds of a struggle. The clip ends with a man slashing the bike’s tires with a knife.
After those assaults, Schiano said police came and formed a line in front of him. He said some protesters continued to try to come at him and a video he posted on Twitter showed one being shoved away by police while yelling “I don’t want him fucking filming.”
Later, a police officer approached Schiano and ordered him to leave the area, saying that it was a “volatile situation” and Schiano’s presence was “aggravating the situation.”
Schiano told the officer he was there as a journalist to document what was going on.
“And you’re inciting a riot,” said the officer.
Fearing arrest if he did not comply, Schiano left the area.
“I walked away with my slashed tires bike under threat of arrest to these cheering sounds of basically everybody who was there,” he told the Tracker. “It was like they’d just won a baseball game because the cops told me to leave.”
Contacted by the Tracker, the Philadelphia Police Department declined to comment.
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.