Journalist hit with multiple pepper balls while documenting protests in Portland

August 20, 2020

Multimedia journalist Grace Morgan said she was hit with pepper balls shot by federal agents while covering protests against police violence in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 20, 2020.

Morgan was documenting protests that had continued for months in downtown Portland and across the U.S. in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following 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 protests across the country.

On the evening of Aug. 20, demonstrators marched from Kenton Park to the Portland Police Association headquarters, ending the protest by 10 p.m. Around that time, another group of protesters gathered at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, the site of what Portland Police declared a riot the previous night.

Morgan said many of the protesters had gotten pushed back to another park two blocks away, but she decided to stay by the building to monitor what the federal agents and Portland police would do next. After about 40 minutes, protesters marched back to the facility. Morgan filmed from the sidewalk as federal agents formed a line and began firing pepper balls and flash-bang grenades into the crowd. Unidentified officers also deployed tear gas, Morgan told the Tracker.

“Suddenly I got hit in the hand that I was filming with,” Morgan said. “It wasn’t until I later reviewed footage by another journalist that I realized I was hit in the head as well.”

In a video she tweeted at 11:38 p.m. on Aug. 20, Morgan drops her phone when she is hit with a pepper ball. She quickly picks the phone back up and walks away from the scene.

Griffin Malone, another independent journalist, captured Morgan’s incident around the 19-second mark in a video he shared. In it, what appears to be a flash-bang grenade bounces off of Morgan’s helmet. She said she clearly displayed her press badges and had markings on her helmet as well.

“I actually wasn’t even that close to the protesters, so it seems like I was specifically targeted,” Morgan told the Tracker. “They were firing 20 or 30 feet to my right and then one thing comes straight at me.”

Morgan said she didn’t know which agency fired the projectile that hit her. The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

At the time, a preliminary injunction a judge put in place in July barred federal agents from harming or impeding journalists. The ruling was upheld by an appeals court in October.

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

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