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Watch: Police Pepper-Spray Black Filmmaker in Face at Peaceful Protest & Medics Help Him Survive

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Image Credit: Chris Frierson

As the nationwide uprising in defense of Black lives continues, demonstrators are recording videos of police brutality on the streets. We speak with Chris Frierson, an African American documentary filmmaker and cameraman who was filming a Black Lives Matter protest on Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, when police moved in on demonstrators. As Frierson filmed, police pepper-sprayed him directly in the face. Chris kept on filming as he struggled to the sidewalk crying in agony from the pain. Within seconds, someone took his arm and guided him to volunteer medics who came to his aid. We air his footage and speak about the incident.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to look at how President Trump has threatened a military response to nationwide protests and how police are already using military-grade weapons against demonstrators. In a minute, we’ll speak with the author of Badges Without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing. But first, we’re joined by Chris Frierson, an African American documentary filmmaker, cameraman, who was filming a Black Lives Matter protest Saturday in Brooklyn, New York, when police moved in on demonstrators. And as he filmed, police pepper-sprayed him directly in the face and lens. Chris kept filming as he struggled to the sidewalk, crying in agony from the pain. Within seconds, someone took his arm and guided him to volunteer medics, who came to his aid. Yes, he filmed what happened to him, shared it with us. This is a clip. Listen closely.

POLICE OFFICER: Get the [bleep] out of here!

CHRIS FRIERSON: Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah! Ah!

PROTESTER 1: Are you good? You good?


PROTESTER 1: Hey. Hey. You get sprayed?


PROTESTER 1: You got sprayed?


PROTESTER 1: All right, come over here. I got some milk.


PROTESTER 1: Let’s get you over here. I got some milk.


PROTESTER 1: Hold on. Don’t touch your eyes.


PROTESTER 2: Move the camera.

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: I got it. I got it. OK? Here we go.


VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Here we go. I’m just going to keep doing this. I know, I know, I know, it sucks.


VOLUNTEER MEDIC: I know, I know, I know, it sucks. I got to get in there, though.

CHRIS FRIERSON: Yeah, that’s OK. I got it. Oh!

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Did they get you only the eyes? Anywhere else?

CHRIS FRIERSON: Everywhere. My face.



VOLUNTEER MEDIC: So, this is going to help balance the pH, and it’ll stop the stinging, all right?




VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Don’t — try not to.

CHRIS FRIERSON: All right, yeah.

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: OK. Does anyone have tissues or anything in their backpack? Anyone have tissues, anything?

PROTESTER 3: Anyone have tissues?


PROTESTER 3: Anyone have tissues?

TOM: Yo, I’m here.

CHRIS FRIERSON: Take a picture of this.

TOM: I’m doing it. We’re rolling.

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Here’s a little toilet paper. What I want you to do is blow your nose. Oh, perfect. This is better.


PROTESTER 4: Just open it up. Open it up.


VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Yeah, perfect. OK, because you’re going to want to get it out of your nose. Ready? 1, 2, 3, blow. Good, perfect.

PROTESTER 5: You want me to get some milk?

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: No, we got saline. Saline is better for the eyes. OK, ready? OK, keep going. Ready? We’re going to do it again. Remember, it’s temporary. It’s not going to be like this. It’s not going to hurt you in a permanent way, but it sucks.

CHRIS FRIERSON: Thank you so much.

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Yeah, I got you.

PROTESTER 5: No justice, no peace! [Bleep] these racist police!

VOLUNTEER MEDIC: Give me water.

CHRIS FRIERSON: They got me right in the face. Like, I saw it happening.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Chris Frierson, Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker, cameraman, filming a Black Lives Matter protest Saturday in Brooklyn for the award-winning documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki, when police moved in on demonstrators. And as he filmed, they pepper-sprayed him in the face and lens. Within seconds, he filmed himself getting help from volunteer medics.

Chris, it’s nice to see you sitting up and that your eyes aren’t closed. Talk about exactly what happened. Why did the police move in on you as you were directly filming?

CHRIS FRIERSON: What happened was, it was a fairly peaceful protest. Nothing was going on. And as we moved through Brooklyn, the cops started surrounding us. And at the drop of a hat, there was one woman in the crowd, who I filmed, who kind of ran in, threw a water bottle. And I turned around, and soon as I turn around, there’s a phalanx of police officers that just start running. They just start running towards a peaceful crowd and start spraying things. And I just saw this liquid flying at me. And it was too quick for me to even understand what was happening, but I was sort of — as you can see, I was incapacitated from that point on.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Chris, it’s always described as this nonlethal way of crowd control. Describe what it feels like to be pepper-sprayed in the face.

CHRIS FRIERSON: It’s the second most painful experience I’ve ever had in my entire life. It is — you just don’t know what’s going on. And I think that it’s more than the pain. It’s just not knowing what’s happening all of a sudden, because you’re robbed of your sight. You’re robbed of your senses. And you just — you have no clear idea what’s happening. And luckily enough, as you see in that video, people came to my aid immediately. And if not for that, I don’t know what I would have done.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it was amazing to see them, these grassroots medics on the ground.


AMY GOODMAN: Explain what they were spraying into your face. They knew exactly what to do. They had their equipment right on them. And they, too, of course, can be pepper-sprayed.

CHRIS FRIERSON: Right. Within seconds, they pulled me aside. I’m over on the curb and not in the street anymore. Saline solution and water. And it was more their words than — I mean, this sounds, whatever — but it was their words that were just as helpful as the water and the milk that was like poured in my eyes. It was them just reassuring me that — you can hear it — that it’s temporary, you’re going to be fine, and everything’s going to be OK. And that’s sort of the power of what a lot of people in these protests, I think — that’s the beauty in the spirit of these. It’s people trying to help each other.

AMY GOODMAN: This wasn’t generalized, the attack on you. I mean, the police shot you point-blank range. You’re a Black man covering a Black Lives Matter protest. You have a major camera right there. And they just take you out with that pepper spray. This also in the midst of the pandemic, where African American men are the most at risk of this respiratory attack on the system — right? — COVID-19.

CHRIS FRIERSON: Right. I mean, I feel like I personally cannot say that they got me because of the color of my skin. I do know that that probably did not help. But what I saw when I saw those cops running towards me was, I saw a weird fear in their eyes, even though there was nothing to be afraid of on their side, from my opinion. There was nothing really going on.

And so, I kind of — you know, when I sort of internalized it, I’m not mad at that guy who did that. I just am not. I see him as someone who’s a product of the systematic failure in a system and policing. And I think that that’s the main thing that needs to be addressed. Like, I honestly am not mad at that guy. He just — that’s what he’s trained to do.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Chris, as we wrap up, you —

CHRIS FRIERSON: And that’s unfortunate. Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: You are right back out on the streets filming?

CHRIS FRIERSON: Yeah. I was out last night, peaceful until it wasn’t. And the day before, the same. But again, that goes back to the systematic failures of what the New York City police is, and I think cities across the country. These guys are workers. And these guys, largely, are being told to do things that are not appropriate.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Frierson, I want to —

CHRIS FRIERSON: But I did — yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for joining us, and thank goodness that you’re OK right now. Astounding that you’re right out on the streets after being pepper-sprayed directly in the face by police. Documentary filmmaker and cameraman.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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