Two Chicago-based journalists — Colin Boyle, a photojournalist for Block Club Chicago, and reporter Marissa Parra of CBS Chicago — said they were assaulted by police while covering demonstrations in Grant Park on July 17, 2020.
Boyle and Parra were documenting the scene surrounding the park’s Christopher Columbus statue, where reports estimated that at least 1,000 people had gathered, eventually attempting to topple the monument to the 15th-century explorer.
Removal of Columbus monuments around the country has been a focal point for many nationwide groups given the explorer’s history of colonization and violence toward Indigenous people.
During the demonstrations in Chicago, which included a rally in support of Black and Indigenous people, police and protesters clashed. Forty-nine officers, according to the Chicago Police Department, were injured, with 18 sent to the hospital, while demonstrators filed at least 20 complaints for excessive force and other grievances with the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.
Boyle told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he’d arrived at Grant Park around 8 p.m., making his way around the area, taking pictures and following police orders. He was wearing a helmet emblazoned with the word “press” and had his police-issued press badge around his neck. About 15 minutes later, he said, police cleared out Columbus Drive, which bisects the park, and things seemed to be winding down.
He said that as he began to exit the park he encountered Officer Kerry Pozulp. Boyle said he held up his press badge, and when the officer saw it, he swore at him, chiding him for presenting his press credentials.
“I said, ‘Is there a problem? Can you repeat?’” Boyle told the Tracker. Boyle said Pozulp then grabbed him from behind and started to shove him. Boyle said he then pulled out his phone to film. When he called out for help to nearby officers, Pozulp replied, “Yeah, you’re gonna need help.”
Boyle tweeted video of the assault shortly afterward.
I was just assaulted by an officer for crossing the road to my bicycle while holding up my press badge and he called me a "smart ass" for doing so, accused me of wanting to start a problem. I yelled help, he said "you're gonna need help" before throwing me. @Chicago_Police pic.twitter.com/XYuJe19IQm— Colin Boyle (@colinbphoto) July 18, 2020
He said he walked away without injury and immediately reported the incident to police nearby. “I had the worst-case scenarios running through my mind,” he said.
After Boyle tweeted the video, the CPD responded on Twitter with a statement that read, in part, “We remain committed to ensuring members of the press are able to do their jobs safely. This incident occurred when Chicago Police officers were dispersing the crowd to protect public safety and all those involved.”
Boyle filed a formal complaint with COPA. When asked for comment, Jennifer Rottner, the director of public affairs at COPA, said she had nothing additional to share, as the case is under investigation.
Boyle also filed a lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Officer Pozulp, alleging that Pozulp committed eight offenses, including use of excessive force, assault and battery. The case has since been settled and dismissed, according to documentation supplied by Boyle’s lawyer, Matt Topic.
Marissa Parra told the Tracker in an interview that she showed up at the park just before 8 p.m. She said she saw individuals gathered around the statue, that it was covered and an individual was attempting to pull it down with a rope.
Not long afterward, clashes between police and individuals turned violent. A video she filmed on Facebook shows police using batons to strike demonstrators.
She said she was filming live among the demonstrators when she was struck by a police baton. The blow knocked the phone out of her hand. Parra tweeted footage of the incident, writing: “You can see him kick it after it lands on the street. Heard a different officer say a few min later, ‘don’t touch her- she’s media.’”
Here’s a clip of a Chicago Police Officer using his baton to swat my phone out of my hand while I was doing a live hit— Marissa Parra (@MarParNews) July 18, 2020
You can see him kick it after it lands on the street.
Heard a different officer say a few min later, “don’t touch her- she’s media”@cbschicago pic.twitter.com/GaYz4UeF65
“It feels like it was … very intentional … I had my press badge around my neck ... he didn’t try to tell me to move or push me out of the way of anything. He hit my phone ... and then the fact that he kicked it across the ground ... that to me says everything. That was a show of force,” she told the Tracker.
Parra filed a complaint with COPA as well and has yet to hear back. The office didn’t respond to a request for comment from the Tracker as of press time.
“Honestly, the only next step is to just keep doing what I was doing before, with more passion than before,” Parra said.
Later that evening, Parra was assaulted by an individual who attempted to take her phone to prevent her from filming, an incident the Tracker has documented here.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.
This content originally appeared on U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: All Incidents and was authored by U.S. Press Freedom Tracker: All Incidents.