Independent journalist targeted with pepper balls by federal agent

July 25, 2020

Independent journalist Seth Dunlap was shot with pepper ball rounds by a federal agent while he was covering protests in Portland, Oregon, early on the morning of July 25, 2020.

Dunlap, a contributor to the social media news outlet FrontLine Access, was covering one of the protests that 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 Black Lives Matter 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 was expanded to include federal agents on July 23.

Demonstrations that began on the night of July 24 outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse downtown, a frequent flashpoint of confrontations between protesters and law enforcement, stretched into the early morning. Federal agents declared an “unlawful assembly” around 12:50 a.m., according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security statement, which estimated that the crowd size was still around 2,000.

Dunlap was filming outside of the courthouse at around 2 a.m. when he was hit, he told the Tracker. Video that Dunlap livestreamed on Facebook showed tear gas blanketing the street outside of the fence that had been erected around the federal building.

About 52 minutes into the video, two agents can be seen through metal fencing, and one appears to gesture at Dunlap. The other agent walks to the fence and positions a gun to point it through a gap in the barricade. “They’re aiming this directly at me I think,” Dunlap can be heard saying.

Continuing to film, Dunlap turns the camera toward himself, showing his neon yellow vest with the word “press” spelled in large black letters on the front.

Then the agent can be seen firing a number of rounds. “He’s shooting me. He’s shooting me,” Dunlap says in the video. “That was pepper balls on me. I want you guys to know that — that was marked press, identified press.”

Dunlap later posted a clip of the encounter on Twitter. “The agent then proceeds to step forward and unload multiple pepper ball rounds directly into my chest and a few others rounds to my left,” he wrote in another tweet.

He told the Tracker that he felt he was targeted for being a journalist. Not only was he marked as “press,” but there were no protesters around him when he was hit, he said.

Dunlap continued reporting after the incident, but he was shocked. “That was the first instance when I had ever had anything like that happen to me so I think I was a little incredulous,” he told the Tracker.

The DHS, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the incidents.

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

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