U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Broadcast anchor attacked while covering protests in Birmingham

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 31, 2020
Birmingham, Alabama


Was the journalist targeted?
May 31, 2020

Stephen Quinn, an anchor and reporter for television station ABC 33/40, was attacked by unidentified assailants while covering protests in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 31, 2020.

Protests against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May. They were sparked by a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Floyd was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

Quinn told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was livestreaming scenes of protests and looting in the city’s downtown, near the site of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park. Two days later, the statue was removed by order of Mayor Randall Woodfin in response to the protests.

After police officers had dispersed the crowd gathered in the park, the protesters had moved to the surrounding streets. Some were breaking the windows of buildings on Sixth Avenue, Quinn said.

At around 10:45 p.m., an unidentified individual knocked the phone Quinn had been using to livestream out of his hand. Quinn said he picked the phone off the ground and resumed filming, but shortly after another man grabbed his wallet from his pocket and ran away. Quinn chased but failed to catch the man. In the process, he was tripped by another individual, causing him to stumble.

Quinn then returned to where other members of the media were gathered. He said that shortly afterwards, another man hit him in the back of his head with what he believed to be an ice-filled styrofoam soda cup. A different man then tried to hit him, but missed.

A second journalist, AL.com social media manager Madison Underwood, tried to shield Quinn, but was knocked to the ground, kicked and punched repeatedly by several unidentified men who had surrounded the journalists. The Tracker has documented that assault here.

In a livestream video of the incident recorded by AL.com journalist Ivana Hrynkiw, the incidents are shown occurring over about three minutes. AL.com said in a tweet and a later article that its reporters, including Hrynkiw, who was heard on the livestream screaming as the attack occurred, left the scene after the attack and were OK.

Quinn told the Tracker he also left the scene and returned to his station’s vehicle. The reporter said his injuries were mild — some bleeding from a cut on his right ear and temporary redness on his neck — but, at the instruction of his network, went to the hospital to be checked as a precaution.

Quinn said he believed he was targeted because the people breaking windows didn’t want their faces on camera. They could see he was a member of the press because he wore a polo shirt with the logo of his network, he said. Three days after the incident, a local community member recovered and returned the stolen wallet, which he told Quinn he had spotted while someone tried to sell it in his neighborhood, the reporter said.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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