Videojournalist assaulted, equipment broken during Austin demonstration

October 24, 2020

Austin-based independent videojournalist Hiram Gilberto Garcia was assaulted and had his equipment damaged while covering a protest in Texas’ capital city on Oct. 24, 2020, according to social media posts.

At approximately 6:40 p.m., Garcia — who posts his livestreams and interviews on Facebook and his website — was documenting a march against police brutality organized to mark the six-month anniversary of the death of Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black and Hispanic man who’d been fatally shot by an Austin police officer on April 24.

The protest was also part of a national movement against police brutality that had swept across the country over the summer. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has documented hundreds of incidents of journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or had their equipment damaged while covering protests in 2020. Find all of these cases here.

In his livestream of the Austin march, Garcia identifies a group of demonstrators he believed were affiliated with the Mike Ramos Brigade, which had organized after Ramos’ death to seek “justice for Mike and all victims of police violence.” The MRB had come to be seen by some in the community as militant, and Ramos’ mother, Brenda Ramos, had distanced herself from the group, KXAN News reported.

“The Mike Ramos Brigade — if it is the Mike Ramos Brigade — is not very friendly with me,” Garcia says in the footage, as some two dozen individuals advanced down South Pleasant Valley Road toward the intersection with East Riverside Drive.

Shortly thereafter, Garcia can be seen crossing the street to document the group more closely after confirming that the group did include members of the MRB.

As soon as Garcia gets a few yards ahead of the group, an individual can be seen breaking away, running up to the journalist and holding a sign in front of his camera in order to prevent him from filming. Multiple other individuals can be heard yelling at Garcia, “Fuck you, Hiram!”

Addressing the animosity, Garcia says in his stream, “Specifically, they’re more concerned that I don’t take really extreme measures to blur out their faces or edit footage afterwards. Obviously this is not what the stream is about.”

“As far as the disagreement between MRB and the platform is simply that, one, I’m unbiased—” Garcia says, before a demonstrator interrupts him, saying, “and two, you’re a fucking snitch!”

In the footage, Garcia continues to follow and attempt to film the group as it crosses the street, with participants consistently holding their signs in front of their faces, cursing him and demanding that he leave.

“Hiram, I don’t know why you’re here!” a participant says through a megaphone. “You’re not here for Black lives. You’re here for yourself.”

Someone then grabs for his camera, which flips the point of view of the footage upside down. It is unclear what transpired after that point, though it appears Garcia was pushed back toward the road and his equipment was knocked out of his hands. Within seconds, the stream abruptly stops.

A post to Garcia’s Facebook page said, “Today during our broadcast Hiram was assaulted and had all of his equipment destroyed and taken (not confirmed), police and EMS were dispatched to the scene and asked Hiram if he wanted to go to the hospital to get checked out, to which he agreed and went with EMS to the Hospital.”

The post went on to condemn the attack on Garcia, but also asked that his subscribers not retaliate against the Mike Ramos Brigade or “seek vigilante justice.”

“Please we only want to bring you information about what is happening around you and report as accurately as possible what is happening, so you all have a better source to make decisions from.”

On Oct. 26 an update was posted to Garcia’s page noting that he was “resting at home and going through standard concussion protocol.”

“[Garcia] suffered from a concussion according to the ER, along with a black eye and some other scrapes and bruises,” the post reads. “Again we continue to denounce any violence of any kind, our mission is truth, Justice, and Honor, we will continue on that path.”

In an emailed comment, a representative for Garcia said, “Our comments will always be the same. We are not the story, our mission is simply to show people who are not down on the streets or at events what is happening in their community as the events happen.”

The representative did not respond to requests for elaboration on the number and type of equipment damaged or whether Garcia has filed or plans to file a police report.

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

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