Freelance journalist Michael Elliott said he was struck with a foam-tipped crowd-control munition while he covered a protest outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, on July 21, 2020.
Elliott 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.
On the night of July 21, the “Wall of Moms” and thousands of other demonstrators converged on the courthouse downton for another night of confrontations with the federal agents. according to the local KPTV news station. When some protesters began pulling off the plywood blocking access to the courthouse shortly after 11 p.m., federal agents emerged from the building to clear the area.
Elliott, who says his work has been published by VICE, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Willamette Week among others, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was reporting from a sidewalk near independent journalist Eric Greatwood, who was livestreaming the protests with a camera attached to the top of a 20-foot pole.
The two journalists were standing on the corner of Third Avenue and Salmon Street, a block north of the federal courthouse.
“The federal agents were at the northwest corner of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse and they were firing at anything and everything by Lownsdale Park,” Elliott said. “I’m not entirely sure what it was that required them to have such a heavy response. At that point, most of the dispersal that they were gunning for had happened.
“Nothing Eric or I were doing solicited the firing of the weapon other than just being there.”
Elliott told the Tracker he was struck in the right shin with a foam-tipped round; Greatwood was struck multiple times as well. Both of the journalists were wearing press badges around their necks and helmets marked “PRESS,” Elliot said.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, said in a statement that officers were “forced” to leave the courthouse to repel a “mob” of protesters. DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment on this incident.
The Portland Police Bureau said in a statement that its officers weren’t present and didn’t engage with protesters that evening.