Lesley McLam, co-host of a KBOO podcast and contributor to Village Portland, said she was struck by a crowd-control munition fired by federal officers and covered in a “toxic white powder” while covering protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, on July 26, 2020.
McLam was documenting one of the many protests that broke out in Portland in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists was expanded to include federal agents on July 23.
One of the main demonstrations taking place the night of July 25 — and stretching into the next morning — was held outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse, where federal law enforcement officers were stationed. Several other journalists were targeted with crowd control munitions after midnight as well.
McLam said she was traversing the area between the courthouse and the parks across the street when she realized the protesters around her were crouched behind shields. “That crowd behind the shields is all hunched down, and that’s when I hear that `pop pop pop pop pop,’ and I felt it on both of my arms,” she told Tracker. “I just hunched down — I hadn’t even made it to the other side yet — hunched down and was like, `Wow, I just got fired at.’”
When she left the area, McLam noticed the white powder, which she believes was from an exploded pepper ball. In addition to getting hit in the bicep, a pepper ball that grazed her right arm left a small slice in her backpack strap, as well. Her phone was also hit by a pepper ball, she said
Later that morning, McLam tweeted: “While covering the protests at the federal courthouse, a toxic white powder got all over me and my equipment.” The accompanying pictures show powder on her backpack, which is labelled “media,” on her camera, on the leg of her pants, and around press passes issued by KBOO and Village Portland.
In a follow-up tweet, she posted two photos of her left bicep, where she was hit by what she believes was a pepper ball. “This is one of the places I was hit by a round shot by #FederalPolice. It broke the skin, through cloth, and a bruise is forming,” McLam wrote.
The injury caused bruising all the way down to the elbow and on the back side of her arm, McLam told the Tracker.
Neither her camera nor her phone were permanently damaged by the powder.
McLam couldn’t say with certainty whether she was targeted for being press, or whether she was hit because she was standing up while others were crouching. In addition to the identification on her backpack andher press passes, she was wearing a black baseball cap with “press” in white letters.
The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to a request for comment.