Videographer Johnny Lynch said federal agents struck and shoved him, knocking off his helmet while he was covering protests in Portland, Oregon, in the early morning hours 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 the DHS, referred the Tracker to the DHS for comment.
Lynch, who was reporting near the intersection of Southwest Third Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street, at the park in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center for Black Zebra Productions, a community-based storytelling production crew, said officers were known to “beat people up” in the park, so he tried to stay close by to document what was happening. “They would always push [press] back if we were up there,” Lynch told the Tracker. “[This] night, they were extra mad. They pulled my gas mask and knocked my helmet onto the ground.”
In a video shared by Lynch and reviewed by the Tracker, officers can be seen aggressively walking toward him. One reaches out to grab what Lynch said was his gas mask and helmet strap. Another grabs the camera, which tilts downward where Lynch’s helmet can be seen rolling on the ground. Lynch said he had been wearing press identifications issued by The Sacramento Bee and Black Zebra Productions.
Officers then pushed him into the line of agents who were firing crowd-control rounds into the crowd, according to Lynch. “I was backing away and then they threw a concussion grenade directly at me that went off a few feet in front of my face,” he said. “Didn’t break anything luckily, but that was a really direct experience.”
Officers also threw a tear gas canister, which Lynch said hit him in the neck and left a chemical burn for a few days, but he said that the canister could have been directed toward the crowd in general.
When reached for comment in the fall of 2020, the PPB told the Tracker it wouldn’t comment on specific incidents, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. Then in early 2021, PPB spokesman Derek Carmon said the department was committed to upholding civil rights for all citizens, including by requiring officers to report any use of force for review.