Freelance journalist struck with projectiles amid Portland demonstrations

August 22, 2021

Freelance journalist Shane Burley was shot with an airsoft gun projectile while on assignment for digital outlet Truthout documenting clashes between right- and left-wing protesters in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 22, 2021.

Far-right demonstrators had planned for the “summer of love” protest in support of the “political prisoners” of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection to take place downtown, The Intercept reported, but had moved the location that morning to an abandoned Kmart parking lot in east Portland following the announcement of several counterprotests.

The Portland Police Bureau announced ahead of the dueling demonstrations that officers would not intervene in any resulting clashes.

“You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart,” Chief Chuck Lovell said in a statement. “People should keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”

Burley told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he started the day covering the antifa counterprotest in downtown Portland, where approximately 200 young people in black bloc had gathered. When some in the crowd began talking about making their way to the far-right demonstration in the neighborhood of Parkrose, Burley said he drove over as well.

“I pull up into the parking lot on the south side and can see that [the Proud Boys] are mostly in front of the Kmart on the north side,” Burley said. “So I stop, I see KGW — which is an NBC affiliate — and I stop and I say, ‘Hey, I’m a reporter on assignment. What’s the safe way to go in here?’ And they’re like, ‘There is no safe way. They just flipped a van over there.’”

Burley said he parked at a Wendy’s across the street and then ran over to begin documenting the demonstration.

“Within a few minutes of being there, a couple of activist people came up behind me and they were shouting or something and then people started shooting what I think is paintballs,” Burley said. “I’m holding a bulletproof helmet, so I just put that in front of my face but I get hit five or six times.”

Shortly after 5 p.m. Burley posted a clip to Twitter of the incident, which begins with him swearing as he is struck.

In another tweet, Burley clarified that he was not sure what type of projectile had struck him, but may have been a rubber ball fired from a paintball gun. He retweeted a video posted by Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling showing someone in fatigues firing a paintball gun at people off-screen.

“I was hit by this, they were aiming them at protesters and next at press. I clearly had a press badge on, as did all the press shot,” Burley wrote. The Tracker was not able to confirm whether other journalists were struck during the demonstration.

Burley told the Tracker he felt deliberately targeted because in addition to his press badge, the helmet he held in front of his face was labeled “PRESS” and he shouted out that he was press before and while he was being shot.

“There’s no way that he didn’t think that I was press, plus it was a press group that they opened fire on,” Burley said. “None of this was justifiable.”

Burley said he has not filed a police report about the incident.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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