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Video journalist hit with pepper spray while covering Boston protests

May 31, 2020

Jack Sorgi, a video journalist for Boston Stringer Media, which sells video footage to news outlets, was pepper-sprayed by police while filming protests in Boston, Massachusetts, on the night of May 31, 2020, according to Sorgi and video of the incident.

The protests were held in response to 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. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.

Beginning around 11 p.m. on May 31, Sorgi filmed a series of tense standoffs between law enforcement and protesters in downtown Boston, the journalist told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker in an email. In one chaotic scene, with sirens blaring in the background, bottles of water and other objects can be seen being thrown at officers with bicycles. In another, the windshield of a squad car is damaged with what appears to be a trash can.

Later in Sorgi’s footage, canisters of colored smoke can be seen landing near protesters, some of whom appeared to then kick or throw the canisters back at police. Sorgi said he believes these were a mild form of tear gas.

For a time, Sorgi said, police remained mostly stationary. At one point in Sorgi’s footage, an officer can be heard using a bullhorn to tell the demonstrators to disperse. Shortly thereafter, Sorgi captured officers advancing toward the protesters.

According to Sorgi, officers started to use pepper spray after a protester approached them and gestured in a hostile manner. From that point on, Sorgi said, one or two officers would deploy pepper spray to the line of people closest to the front of the police line, where Sorgi was filming.

Sorgi, who said he was wearing a vest, goggles and a helmet emblazoned with the word “PRESS,” told the Tracker that the first bursts of pepper spray didn’t affect him. But then, he said, police “deployed a different type of pepper spray” that seemed “to seep into my skin and burn much more intensely than the other sprays combined.”

“I was completely unable to see,” Sorgi told the Tracker. “I ran away shouting, ‘Press’ as I was unsure if the police were rushing the crowd.”

In Sorgi’s footage, the journalist can be heard shouting, “Water, water, water!” as he turns and runs from the area.

Sorgi said another photographer grabbed him and poured Gatorade in his eyes, which helped him to see slightly. Then, he said, a group of protesters took him by the arm and shepherded him into an alleyway, where he was then let into the back entrance of a hotel by a doorman. Sorgi said he sat in the hotel for about 25 minutes while the doorman brought him towels and water and some protesters stayed by his side. Sorgi said he then returned to the streets to continue filming.

Sorgi said the police generally seemed to be respecting journalists and that it was unlikely that he was targeted by those using pepper spray. He said he later contacted the Boston Police Department about the incident and that a representative denied that officers had targeted journalists and apologized that he was hurt by the pepper spray.

The BPD did not immediately respond to an email from the Tracker seeking comment.

Later in the evening, Sorgi was hit on the head by a bottle of frozen water and harassed by individuals who tried to take his camera. The Tracker has documented that incident here.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had 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]

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