Reporter and photojournalist Shauna Sowersby said she was targeted with crowd-control munitions by federal agents while she was covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, early on July 23, 2020.
Protests had been held in Portland on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering BLM protests across the country.
The Portland protests 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. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon filed a class-action lawsuit.
Sowersby, whose work has been published by the Daily Beast, KNKX Public Radio and the Pacific Northwest nonprofit news outlet Crosscut, was near the right side of the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse early that morning.
When federal agents approached the crowd and began shooting pepper balls, an officer aimed one directly at her, which hit her on her ribs, she posted on Twitter at 2:20 a.m.
“At the moment, I kind of blacked out for a second because it's very painful,” she told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Sowersby said she felt that police clearly aimed the pepper ball directly at her, and she was targeted as a member of the press. She said she was holding her camera and wearing a press badge, and was clearly marked as a member of the media.
After leaving the scene briefly, she said she went back to cover the protests, still affected by her injury.
“You're just kind of running on adrenaline at that point right so you get back in and I covered the rest of the night everything, but it was very painful,” she said.
A photograph she posted on Twitter later that morning showed a red welt on her torso where she was struck. A few days later, she went to the emergency room and was told by doctors she had sustained a small rib fracture and rib contusion, she said.
Sowersby said that she hasn’t pursued any action against the federal agencies to recover her medical costs, which totaled around a couple thousand dollars. She told the Tracker she thinks it is unlikely that filing a complaint or trying to recover the costs would have any effect.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incidents.