Local journalist hit with pepper balls while covering Portland protest

March 11, 2021

James Croxton, managing editor of Oregon-based DoubledSided541, which describes itself as an independent media collective, said he was hit when federal officers fired crowd-control munitions at a small group of journalists covering a March 11, 2021, protest near the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland, Oregon.

The protest was one of many during March in the city’s Pearl District, a popular downtown area where former warehouses are converted to restaurants. The protests have resulted in streets being closed, fires, damage to city property and shop windows smashed, according to The Oregonian. Protests have been taking place in Portland regularly starting in spring 2020, partly linked to Black Lives Matter but also around issues such as defunding police, environmental actions and other social justice issues.

Croxton, who also works for neighborhood news site Village Portland, said he was on 4th Ave., close to the Salmon St. intersection, when the small group of reporters came across what looked to be a canister of HC gas, a toxic smoke bomb used by the military, burning in the street. Local news outlet Oregon Live has covered incidents of HC gas reportedly being used by the Portland police to disperse protesters “two dozen times.” The gas contains hexaclorotethane and is toxic, Oregon Live reported.

Croxton said that he had been looking for evidence that police were using chemicals against protesters and the media; he said he has been documenting that in conjunction with the Portland-based research and activist group Chemical Weapons Research Consortium.

“Just a couple of seconds after I had walked up to the canister to document, the Federal Protective Service [part of Homeland Security] turned their pepper balls towards us and shot at our feet and ankles,” Croxton told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. He said some of the munitions also hit higher on his body, leaving “powder from impacts on my jacket.”

Croxton said the pepper balls caused him sharp, but temporary, pain as he walked back from the canister. “Fortunately, pepper ball pains go away relatively quickly,” he said.

In video footage of the incident, a small group of people with video cameras, some of whom are clearly wearing “PRESS” on their clothing, or wearing “PRESS” badges, are seen taking footage and don’t appear to be close to protesters. The sound of what appears to be munitions being fired can be heard.

Croxton said he believed he was deliberately targeted by law enforcement. “It is unmistakable that the FPS shot at the press. I am, at the very least, very identifiable and have clearly visible 'PRESS' markings.”

“I intentionally try my best to stand-out from the rest of the crowd. My press credentials are also light-colored and are made to be seen from a distance,” he said.

Croxton told the Tracker: “It's extremely disheartening to be targeted and, essentially, assaulted by the very people who are supposed to ‘protect us.’ I think I can speak for many more than just myself in saying that instances like this during the last year have radicalized our views towards law enforcement.”

The Oregonian reported that federal officers drove demonstrators away from the courthouse in downtown Portland that night after fires were started and the building was damaged.

Officers were deploying impact munitions, tear gas, flash-bang grenades and smoke bombs, the paper reported.

Since July, court rulings from the U.S. District Court in Oregon have barred law enforcement officers from the Portland Police Bureau and federal agencies from arresting, harming or impeding journalists or legal observers of the protests, as the Tracker has previously reported.

The DHS Office of Public Affairs has not responded to a Tracker request for a comment.

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

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