Reporter hit with crowd-control munitions in Portland, treated for concussion

January 20, 2021

Independent journalist Alissa Azar was hit with crowd-control munitions by federal officers while covering a protest in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility in southern Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 20, 2021.

According to news reports, an estimated 100 people marched to the ICE facility around 9 p.m. and began chanting to protest the detention and caging of migrant children. At 9:30 p.m., federal officers declared the gathering an unlawful assembly.

Azar, who regularly livestreams on social media, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker she was standing on the sidewalk across the street from the facility with a row of journalists when federal officers suddenly rushed outside from the ICE building. She said they deployed crowd-control munitions including pepper balls and tear gas for "almost 20 minutes straight" to push the crowd back.

Azar said she left the ICE facility with a reporter with Full Revolution Media, John, who declined to provide his last name due to safety concerns. She heard of a different gathering happening two blocks away, but she said that when they arrived, there were no protesters, only a line of federal officers.

Those officers pushed Azar and the other reporter “back to the ICE building even though [officers at the ICE building were] asking people to leave," Azar told the Tracker. When she got back with the other members of the press, the officers "were just fumigating [us] directly in the face.” Azar said she did not know what the officers were spraying at the crowd.

“What’s scary about that machine is that you can’t look at the spent munitions to see what they’re deploying,” John added. The officers used what John described as a pesticide gun, similar in shape to a leaf blower, to release an unknown gas.

In a tweet posted at 11:46 p.m., Azar wrote that she "lost count of pushes" and her chest hurt, making it hard to breath. She told the Tracker she was wearing visible press markings on her clothes and helmet, as well as a National Press Photographers Association credential. John said he wore a helmet with press markings across the front and back.

"I had a flash bang thrown right at my ear," Azar told the Tracker. "I ended up passing out because I was trapped in the tear gas and it went through my gas mask." She said her friends then took her to Providence Portland Medical Center’s emergency room, where she was diagnosed with a concussion and torn muscle.

The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence, didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incident.

The ICE protest was one of many social justice demonstrations in Portland that have been ongoing since protests first broke out in May 2020 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The Portland Police Bureau has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

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

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