KPCC/LAist Reporters Tear-Gassed, Shot With Rubber Bullet

Minutes after he was struck in the neck while covering a protest in Long Beach, our higher education reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reported his own injury on social media. (Adolfo Guzman-Lopez / LAist)

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UPDATED: June 1, 12:56 p.m.

As protests over the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer stretch into their fifth night, KPCC/LAist reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez was shot in the throat with a rubber bullet by Long Beach police officers.

Guzman-Lopez was among many people present at the protests — including some of our other reporters — to witness or be injured by aggressive acts by law enforcement officers. Among jarring incidents nationwide was video of officers in Minneapolis firing paint rounds at people sitting on their own front porches.

The contrast between police response to these protests and how people protesting the pandemic restrictions — many of whom came armed to rallies — were treated has been notable.

Under the law, reporters are specifically allowed access to protests in order to do their jobs. Prior to sending reporters into the field, KPCC/LAist had confirmed with officials from L.A. County and the cities of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Santa Monica that journalists were among those exempt from the curfew.

UPDATE: Long Beach Mayor and Police Chief respond to the incident.

'STARTING TO HURT'

The incident occurred at approximately 6:30 p.m. near 3rd Street and Pine Avenue in Long Beach, shortly after Guzman-Lopez had interviewed a protestor.

In a tweet time-stamped 6:40 p.m., Guzman-Lopez wrote:

"I just got hit by a rubber bullet near the bottom of my throat. I had just interviewed a man with my phone at 3rd and Pine and a police officer aimed and shot me in the throat, I saw the bullet bounce onto the street. OK," he said, "that's one way to stop me, for a while."

In a follow-up tweet he wrote: "The rubber bullet hit stings like a mf, and is starting to hurt, talked to doctor friends, said if not having trouble breathing then ok. Going home."

About an hour earlier, Lopez told KPCC host A Martinez by phone that it had been a "rollercoaster" at 3rd Street and Pine Avenue, where about 200 people kneeled on one knee as they faced about two dozen police officers in riot gear.

Guzman-Lopez told Martinez that nearby, people broke into a men's shop, just out of sight of police officers. Eventually police were alerted; they arrived at the scene and fired rubber bullets. However, Guzman-Lopez said, "Right now it's peaceful."

Guzman-Lopez, after icing his throat, was able to speak on air about what happened on 89.3 KPCC.

"I'm okay. I'm breathing," he told Larry Mantle.


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Guzman-Lopez said he had just finished interviewing one of the protesters who'd been kneeling. He noted that he was one of the only people standing.

"I talked to him for about a minute and just as I was finishing talking to him — right after I said: 'Thank you,' I heard a pop and I felt something, you know, the bottom of my throat and I saw something bounced onto the ground, and then I ran."

"As I was running, I did start to feel its sting, and then I put my fingers to my throat and there was blood on my fingers."

He asked people nearby what his injury looked like.

"They said: 'Oh, man, it looks bad. Looks bad.' And so I took some pictures, and sure enough, so I am upset because of the sequence of events."

He said he had previously witnessed a police officer firing rubber bullets and believed that officer likely fired the rubber bullet that hit him. He also said he believed it was purposeful.

"I've been in these kinds of situations. I've covered protests with, you know, with police officers in riot gear," he said, including a 2007 May Day protest that sent one of his colleagues to the hospital.

He said he was shot Sunday "only after I was obviously interviewing somebody. Nobody else in that intersection was doing anything like I was doing there."

"It just doesn't square up with, you know, what is the policy towards using rubber bullets. OK, so you're trying to clear, you're trying to disperse. You're trying to stop people committing violent acts or that sort of thing. I was doing none of that... and I was nowhere near anybody engaged in any kind of, you know, taking, stealing or whatever."

Guzman-Lopez also noted that he was wearing his press credentials in a lanyard around his neck, but he also noted that in the past those credentials had been far more visible than the current version.

LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW

'IT JUST STARTED BLOWING'

Yesterday, on Beverly Boulevard near Fairfax, KPCC/LAist's visual journalist Chava Sanchez was documenting protests when officers with LAPD "baton-checked" him, pushing him away from a barricade.

"I identified myself as press and they kind of backed off a bit. Eventually they let me through," Sanchez said.

Moments later, when LAPD and the L.A. County Sheriff's Department fired tear gas canisters, Sanchez said he was "caught in crossfire." He said the crowd had been peaceful, many with their hands in the air and chanting, "Hands up, don't shoot."

One of the canisters landed right near me and it just started blowing," he said. "I couldn't see. I had to put my camera down."

At that point, he said, a protestor sprayed baking soda and water on his face to stop the burning, while another poured milk on his eyes for the same purpose. He said officers fired three rounds of tear gas on the peaceful crowd.

In the same part of the city, KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang had to flee from a barrage of rubber bullets fired at what she described as a peaceful crowd.


'WE TOLD THEM WE WERE WITH THE PRESS'

And on Sunday evening in Santa Monica, Sanchez and reporter Emily Guerin were in an alley near Broadway and 5th in Santa Monica attempting to document an arrest when police pointed rifles at them.

"We heard arrests were happening and asked an officer if we could go closer. He said yes and instructed us to go down an alley," Guerin said.

She wasn't sure if the officer giving instructions was with Santa Monica police or another agency.

"We got about halfway down the alley when officers — wearing different uniforms — told us to stop. We stopped and put our hands in the air. We told them we were with the press. That's when they trained their guns on us."

Guerin and Sanchez said they were unable to determine which law enforcement agency the officers were with.

NATIONWIDE, POLICE AGGRESSION TOWARD PRESS

As protests erupted over the past five days, numerous reports have surfaced of law enforcement officers acting aggressively toward members of the press, even when they were showing credentials, identifying themselves as journalists or clearly doing the work of journalists. Below is an incomplete list of such incidents:

Also in Los Angeles:

  • Lexis Olivier-Ray (who contributes to LAist) says he was hit in the stomach by an LAPD officer after identifying himself as a journalist.
  • Cerise Castle, a reporter with KCRW, was shot with a rubber bullet while holding her press badge above her head.
  • Samuel Braslow, a reporter for Los Angeles Magazine, was grazed by a rubber bullet. It is unclear whether he had identified himself as a journalist.


In New York:

  • Christopher Mathias, a reporter for Huffington Post, was "roughed up" and possibly arrested while clearly engaging in the work of a journalist, with his press credentials showing, according to Danny Gold, a PBS NewsHour contributor on the scene. Law enforcement also used riot shields to rush Gold and freelance reporter Phoebe Leila Barghouty, who say they were complying and credentialed, according to Barghouty's Twitter account.

  • Keith Boykin, with CNN, was arrested after identifying himself as press.

In Minneapolis:

  • CNN's Omar Jimenez, his photojournalist, and producer were arrested while live on air and attempting to comply with officers.
  • Molly Hennessy-Fiske, with the Los Angeles Times, was hit with two rubber bullets and tear gas "at point blank range," according to her account on Twitter.

Hennessy-Fiske later wrote in the LA Times, "I've covered protests involving police in Ferguson, Mo., Baton Rouge, La., Dallas and Los Angeles. I've also covered the U.S. military in war zones, including Iraq and Afghanistan. I have never been fired at by police until tonight."

  • Madeleine Baran, a reporter with APMReports (APM is part of APMG, the parent company of KPCC/LAist), said police pointed weapons at her and her producer's heads.
  • Linda Tirado, a photographer with the Guardian newspaper was blinded by a rubber bullet. Speaking with the New York Times, she said: "I would say there is no way that anyone had looked at me and not known that I am a working journalist," she said. "That said, police have been pretty clear that they don't care if you are working journalist."
  • Ali Velshi, with MSNBC, said he and his crew were shot twice — once after the crew members identified themselves as media.Velshi was hit in the leg.

  • Maggie Koerth, a reporter with FiveThirtyEight.com, tweeted that law enforcement officers pointed weapons at her and other journalists they screamed that they were press.
  • Michael Anthony Adam, a reporter with Vice, tweeted: "Police just raided the gas station we were sheltering at. After shouting press multiple times and raising my press card in the air, I was thrown to the ground. Then another cop came up and peppered sprayed me in the face while I was being held down."
  • Susan Ormiston, a correspondent with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., was shot in the shoulder with a rubber bullet. "She reports she and her camera operator were in a parking lot that had been cleared of protesters when she was shot," according to a colleague.
  • John Marschitz, with CBS Newspath, was hit with rubber bullet as police fired on his team members, who he says were showing credentials and had cameras out.

In Detroit:

JC Reindel, of the Detroit Free Press tweeted: "Several of our @freep journalists got pepper-sprayed tonight by Detroit Police, one directly in the face as he held up his media badge. A photographer had her livestream camera slapped out of her hand by another DPD officer as she tried to do her job."


In Louisville:

  • Sara Sidery, a TV Reporter with Fox Affiliate WDRB, said she was tear-gassed shortly before going live.

In Chicago:

  • Freelance journalist Jonathan Ballew says he was pepper-sprayed while holding up press pass.

UPDATES:

June 3, 7:45 a.m.: This article was updated to correct the description of the Minneapolis video of police firing on residents, it appeared to be with paint rounds, not rubber bullets.