Independent journalist struck with tear gas canister during Portland protest

July 12, 2020

Independent journalist Garrison Davis was struck by a tear gas canister fired by federal agents while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours of July 12, 2020.

Protests have broken out across the U.S. 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.

Around 12:40 a.m., Davis was filming in Lownsdale Square across from the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse when he was shot in the back with a teargas canister, he told the Tracker. The canister fell into his messenger bag, soaking Davis and his bag with gas and nearly catching the bag on fire.

Davis, who described both of these incidents in a declaration for the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon in support of expanding the TRO to cover federal agents, said he believes that he was targeted by federal troops: “There wasn’t really anyone by me,” said Davis, whose helmet is marked “press.” In a video tweeted by Davis that captures the moment he was hit, he can be heard cursing and fumbling as bystanders help to remove the canister from his bag.

About 15 minutes later, Davis tweeted another video showing a line of federal agents deploying munitions towards the park from across the street. “More teargas being deployed in the street and park. Officers trying to shoot me as I record. There were no protesters behind me as they shot in my direction,” Davis wrote in the post.

He felt targeted once again. “I had my camera up and I’m walking around with my camera up, both hands are on my camera the whole time,” Davis told the Tracker. “It’s very clear what I’m doing, but I was continuing to get shot at when no one was around me.”

While a number of federal agencies had officers in Portland in July, it wasn’t clear which agency the officers were from. The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to requests for comment.

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

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