Photojournalist Nathan Howard was hit in the ankle with a flash-bang grenade and shoved by a police officer into a bush while he was reporting on protests in Portland, Oregon early on the morning of Aug. 8, 2020.
Protests against racial injustice had been held nightly in Portland since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
Law enforcement officers in Portland have 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 ACLU suit led to a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, barring the Portland Police Bureau from harming or impeding journalists.
Howard, who was covering the protest for The Associated Press, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was photographing a demonstration at the East Precinct of the PPB, which also houses the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department office.
At around 1 or 2 a.m., police formed a riot formation and protesters started backing off, he said.
Howard said he was in a gap in the street between protesters and police as he photographed law enforcement advancing. He heard a metal clang and felt something bounce off his ankle, he said.
“I looked down and kind of had enough time to go, ‘Oh, this is gonna suck,’ and a half second later the flash-bang went off,” he said.
Howard told the Tracker the device was resting against his ankle when it exploded, cutting and burning him. The blast also melted pieces of metal into his shoes. He said that he kept following the protest, limping, as police drove the protesters away from the police building and onto side streets.
A short time later, Howard said he was standing with another journalist, photographing police arrest a protester in a yard. An officer came up behind them and told them that they had to leave. Howard said they couldn’t easily leave because they were in the space between protesters and police. He said they tried to explain that to the officer, but the officer said he did not care.
As Howard started backing up, he said, the officer shoved the other journalist into a bush. Howard told the Tracker he thinks he tried to take a photograph or said something to the officer to identify them as journalists, and the officer then shoved him into the bush.
The Tracker could not confirm the identity of the second journalist.
Howard said he was clearly marked as a journalist, wearing a vest marked “PRESS” and had credentials hanging around his neck.
Howard said he believed he was targeted because he was a journalist.
Howard told the Tracker he had a gash about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long from the flash-bang grenade. He said the heat from the explosion cauterized the cut, so it didn’t bleed much. A protest medic dressed the wound that night, and Howard said he continued to monitor it over the following days. More than six months later, he said he still had a scar on his ankle.
A spokesperson for PPB declined to comment on the incident. The police department has refused comment to the Tracker in other incidents citing ongoing litigation.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. Find these incidents here.