Los Angeles Times correspondent Melissa Etehad said she was targeted with crowd-control munitions fired by federal law enforcement officers during a protest in Portland, Oregon, on July 24, 2020, despite a fresh court order barring federal agents in the city from harming members of the press covering protests.
Portland had been experiencing daily protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died in police custody 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.
The presence of federal law enforcement in Portland in July intensified the city's regular protests and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in downtown Portland became a nightly flashpoint. A temporary restraining order from July 2 that barred Portland police from harming or impeding journalists was expanded to include federal agents on July 23. Despite the expansion of the temporary restraining order, the following day numerous journalists were hit with crowd-control munitions in the vicinity of the federal courthouse as protesters again gathered there. Some said they believed they were targeted.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment. In its “Portland Riots Read-out” DHS said one federal officer was injured during the protest, which began the night of July 23 and went through the morning of July 24.
“No injuries to protestors or rioters have been reported” the statement added. It didn’t mention any injuries to journalists, despite reports some reporters were hurt.
Etehad told the Tracker she posted on Twitter that she was struck in the waist with a “rubber bullet” while covering the protest.
According to notes Etehad supplied the Tracker, federal agents outside the Multnomah County Justice Center deployed tear gas directly at her and a group of reporters at about 1:30 a.m. on July 24. She said the agents were about 10 feet away when they used the tear gas.
Following the deployment of tear gas, Etehad said she was holding up press identification to make it clear to federal agents that she was a journalist. She said she was staying away from protesters and was close enough to federal agents that they could see she was press.
According to her notes, at 1:45 a.m. she turned around to leave the area as federal agents began moving on protesters and again firing tear gas. “That’s when I got hit by the rubber bullet,” she told the Tracker.
She estimated she was at least 15 feet away from the nearest protester when she was hit in the waist while trying to retreat. Etehad was wearing a high-visibility vest, a gas mask and a helmet when she was hit. She also had press credentials hanging on a lanyard around her neck and was holding them up to show agents.
“I’m 99% sure I was targeted,” she said, noting again that she was close enough for agents to identify her and had remained in the same spot for a while before fleeing. “I was away from the protesters. It was aimed at me. They knew I was a journalist.”
Etehad said the projectile left a bruise that lasted several weeks and that it hurt to walk in the following days. “I got lucky,” she said.