Freelance journalist Brian Conley said he was hit with shrapnel and knocked to the ground by law enforcement officers as he covered the police response to Sept. 5, 2020, demonstrations in Portland, Oregon.
Protests had been held In Portland almost nightly since late May in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. Sept. 5 was the 101st consecutive day of civil unrest in the city.
Conley told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he was covering demonstrations on the evening of Sept. 5 just west of Ventura Park in east Portland, near the intersection of Southeast Stark Street and 113th Avenue.
Police were deployed to block protesters who had gathered at Ventura Park from marching on a police precinct building located several blocks away at Southeast 106th Avenue, the Oregonian reported.
Protesters had targeted law enforcement buildings and surrounding areas, sometimes breaking windows, setting fires and tagging structures with graffiti. Police used tear gas on Sept. 5 for the first time in a month and made 59 arrests at the protest near Ventura Park, according to a department news release.
Conley, who has reported from conflict zones in Libya and Iraq, said that at about 9 p.m., he was struck on the back of his leg with munitions that he believed to be shrapnel from an exploding tear gas canister.
A short time later, Conley captured video of a Molotov cocktail exploding on the street, setting fire to a protester’s legs.
Other journalists and bystanders also filmed the scene, in which the protester is seen thrashing around the street before onlookers help to extinguish the flames crawling up his lower body. The footage went viral.
“When they started throwing Molotov cocktails, all hell broke loose,” Conley said.
At that point, police that had formed a line near the scene suddenly rushed toward protesters, Conley told the Tracker.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reporter Sergio Olmos posted video of the police “bull rush” that knocked Conley to the ground on Twitter.
“I tucked my shoulder and rolled,” Conley told the Tracker. “None of my equipment was damaged.”
Conley said fellow journalists on the scene helped him to his feet. He didn’t seek medical attention after the fall, nor did he file a complaint with the Portland Police Bureau regarding the incidents.
PPB said protesters threw Molotov cocktails at officers and that officers at the scene had declared the protest had turned into a riot, according to a department news release.
“This criminal activity presented an extreme danger to life safety for all community members, and prompted a declaration of a riot,” the release states. “The crowd was advised over loudspeaker that it was a riot and they were to leave the area to the east immediately. They were warned that failure to adhere to this order may subject them to arrest, citation, or crowd control agents, including, but not limited to, tear gas and/or impact weapons.”
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.