Journalist Janusz Malo said he was tear-gassed by police in the early hours of July 26, 2020, while covering a protest in Eugene, Oregon.
Malo, a writer for Double Sided Media, an independent media collective, was covering one of the protests that broke out in Eugene 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 demonstration, organized in “solidarity” with the Portland protests that have been held almost nightly, began at the federal courthouse around 8 p.m. on the night of July 25 and stretched past midnight. Several hundred protesters were met by about a hundred counterprotesters who were openly carrying large firearms, according to the local paper, The Register-Guard.
Late into the evening, after some properties had been vandalized, police declared a riot and told the press to gather on the south side of protesters to avoid being struck by munitions, Malo told the Tracker. About 30 minutes after police warned over a Long Range Acoustic Device that they would use tear gas, he said, they deployed the canisters toward the group of press.
Malo tweeted a video at 12:11 a.m. describing how he “stopped breathing” after getting tear-gassed
“I started coughing, my lungs closed up, I fell to the ground, and I started crawling out of the cloud,” Malo told the Tracker.
“It was my first time being tear gassed,” Malo said. “I didn’t have goggles on, I didn’t have a gas mask on, all I had was just a face mask.”
Malo, who was wearing press identification around his neck at the time of the incident, said it was clear he was part of the group of media covering the protest. “I do believe they hit us on purpose,” he said.
The experience of covering protests and witnessing the turmoil stemming from police brutality has inspired Malo to run for city council in the Oregon town he spent his adulthood in, he said. “It’s made me want to do more for my community.”
The Eugene Police Department didn’t provide a specific comment on the incident. Instead, they referred the Tracker to Mayor Lucy Vinis’ comments about the event: “We must work harder and faster to address systemic racism and police reform,” she said in a statement, but did not address the use of tear gas.