Journalists hit with projectiles, shoved while covering Portland protest

July 25, 2020

Two journalists said they were assaulted 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.

Independent journalist Jasper 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.

Independent journalist Seth Dunlap was shoved to the ground by an agent he believes was with ICE or another federal agency while the independent journalist filmed protests at the park across from the federal courthouse.

Dunlap, a contributor to media company Frontline Access, said he was filming officers tearing up medic and water stations from approximately 30 feet away when an officer dressed in black quickly approached him and yelled, “Get the hell out of here.”

Dunlap repeated the language from the preliminary injunction ordering federal officers to not assault or arrest journalists, but the officer shoved him back.

“I calmly cited Judge Michael Simon’s reaffirming ruling to multiple federal officers that night and my interactions were generally fine,” Dunlap wrote to the Tracker. “Then one homeland security guard refused to let me stay and shoved me to the ground forcefully and threatened me with arrest. Only my loud pleas perhaps stopped that from happening, I’m not sure."

In a video Dunlap posted to Twitter, he can be heard saying that, as a member of the working press, he didn’t have to obey orders to disperse. “I’m going to respectfully allow you to do your jobs and you’re going to respectfully allow me to do [mine].”

After Dunlap took a knee, he said the officer turned around and walked away without saying anything else. He sustained several bruises, but didn’t know whether they all came from this incident.

“I felt completely violated not only as press but as a human,” Dunlap said.

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

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