Independent journalist Jake Johnson was hit with projectiles fired by federal law enforcement officers while they were covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 19, 2020.
Johnson was covering one of the many protests that had broken out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after 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 wasn’t expanded to include federal agents until July 23. Johnson is involved in the class action lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon, which led to the TRO.
On the night of July 19, Johnson was hit in the stomach by a projectile fired by a federal officer. He was standing in Chapman Square, near the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, when he was hit by an agent retreating toward the courthouse. At that point, most of the protesters were on Southwest Main Street or in Lownsdale Square, a park area next to Chapman Square and across from the courthouse.
Toward the end of a video taken by journalist Robert Evans and retweeted by Johnson at 10:38 p.m., Johnson can be seen standing on a diagonal path that runs through Chapman Square.
“I’m walking down the diagonal path very slowly because I’m not trying to startle any officers by rushing at them. I’m giving them plenty of time to see I’m approaching slowly, they can see that I’m press, the park is lit up,” Johnson told the Tracker, noting that his helmet says “press” on five sides.
Around 2:33:30 into Evans’s video, Johnson can be heard groaning as he gets hit in the stomach. He then kneels down to try and retrieve the projectile. “Based on the injury and the bruising pattern, my best guess is that it was a rubber bullet,” he said.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, also didn’t respond to a request for comment.