Mike Baker, Seattle bureau chief for The New York Times, was struck in the head by a federal officer while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early hours of July 21, 2020.
Baker was covering one of the many protests that broke out in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists wasn’t expanded to include federal agents until July 23.
Demonstrations that began the night of July 20 stretched into the early hours of the next day, according to the Oregonian, as the “Wall of Moms” and other protesters confronted federal officers stationed at the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse downtown.
Not long after midnight, Baker was observing protesters try to pry protective plywood off of the federal courthouse when federal agents emerged from the building to confront the crowd. One agent came up from behind Baker and hit him in the back of the head, knocking him over.
At 12:31 a.m., Baker tweeted: “The feds came rushing out aggressively. Throwing people to the ground, tear gas, firing less-lethals. One ran at me and punched me in the head, knocked me to the ground. I’m ok.”
Baker also tweeted a video captured by livestreamer Eric Greatwood that shows a federal agent approaching Baker from behind before hitting him. Baker was wearing a gas mask and helmet and appeared to be standing away from the protesters when he was assaulted.
Baker said he didn’t believe he was targeted as press. “I think they were just going towards the protest crowd and just kind of hit me along the way,” he told the Tracker.
Despite being struck in the head and knocked to the ground, Baker said he wasn’t injured.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, said in a statement that officers used pepper balls and tear gas to respond to an “assault” against the courthouse and law enforcement officers by rioters. DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incident involving Baker.