Ford Fischer, co-founder and editor-in-chief of News2Share, was struck with crowd control munitions twice while on assignment for digital wire service Zenger covering protests in Washington, D.C., on May 30, 2020.
The Washington protests were part of a surge of demonstrations across the country, sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis.
Fisher, whose video news service focuses on "the latest on politics and activism,” told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was watching a “stand-off” between riot officers and protesters in front of the White House in Lafayette Park. He said some demonstrators threw objects at police and ignited fireworks, and officers pushed back and shot crowd control munitions.
“At one point during that chaos I did get a sharp sting into my gut, and I was able to feel that it was a pepper ball because it releases a pepper-spray equivalent around it,” Fischer said. “But that was far enough from my face that it didn’t have the sort of blinding effect that being maced or taking a pepper ball closer to the face would have, so I essentially ignored it.”
At around 11:45 p.m., Fischer said that fireworks set off by a protester landed somewhere between where he was standing and the officers.
“I made a remark into my stream, jokingly, to the effect of, ‘Sorry, a firework blew up next to my head,’ and I was saying that because it was probably extremely loud to people watching,” Fischer said. That clip can be viewed here. The scene is then relatively quiet, until “about 20 seconds later, there was a pepper round that was shot and that hit my right shoulder,” Fischer said.
Fischer said that the round exploded close enough to his face that he felt the chemical irritant powder, which he said left him blinded for several minutes. He posted an image of the abrasion on his shoulder on Facebook.
Throughout the night, Fischer said, he heard a “rat-tat-tat-tat-tat” of officers firing off multiple rounds of pepper balls. When he was struck the second time, he said that he could hear only one shot fired. Because of that, he believes he was targeted: “I don’t think anybody could have focused in on me and seen anything other than a journalist.” Fischer said he was wearing his Congressional and White House press passes around his neck and carrying a “studio-sized” video camera.
“There was somebody who very quickly came to my aid and poured water in my eyes,” Fischer said. “And I was still kind of struggling as I walked north-bound away from it.”
“Because I was still in residual pain and shaken up from that, I ended up leaving that protest pretty early,” Fischer said. “Once there was a safe way to exit, I did so.”
In Fischer’s footage from that night, some law enforcement officers appear to be carrying shields labeled with “military police” and “U.S. Park Police,” but it was not immediately clear to which agency the officers shooting belonged. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment.
The following night, Fischer was struck in the forehead with a rubber bullet and detained by police. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented those incidents here.