Journalist Jasper Florence was struck with pepper balls fired by law enforcement officers while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on the night of July 25, 2020.
The protests were among many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
Law enforcement officers in Portland had targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The case resulted in a temporary restraining order on July 2 barring the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists, which was expanded to include federal agents later that month.
The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t responded to requests for comment on any incidents involving its officers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which operates under DHS, referred the Tracker to the DHS for comment.
Florence was hit with pepper balls while they were documenting confrontations at the courthouse. In photos shared on Twitter, residue from pepper balls could be seen on an equipment bag on Florence’s hip and staining their pants. Their press identification is also visible.
Florence told the Tracker that law enforcement officers confronting protesters at the courthouse were firing “fairly indiscriminately” into protesters that night. Florence was wearing press markings, but said they didn’t feel targeted.
“They were trying to fire at the protesters, but they didn’t really think about how they were firing,” Florence said. “It was a caught-in-the-crossfire kind of thing.”
Florence wasn’t sure how many times they got hit and described the injuries as minor, leaving bruises for several days. They were wearing a paintball vest, which helped protect their chest from pepper-ball impacts. Florence continued to work after being struck.