Seattle Gay News reporter Renee Raketty was targeted with a blast ball fired by law enforcement officers while covering a protest in Seattle, Washington, on July 25, 2020.
According to Crosscut, demonstrators that day had gathered in the Capitol Hill neighborhood both as part of the wave of protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death, on May 25, and in response to the Trump administration’s recent deployment of federal officers to the city. Tensions escalated throughout the afternoon, Crosscut reported, and at 4:25 p.m., police declared the gathering a riot. In the hours that followed, law enforcement repeatedly deployed chemical agents and crowd-control munitions.
The police response to the protest led the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington to file a motion for contempt, arguing that police violated a court order that had been issued in June restricting them from using chemical agents and projectiles. Raketty was named in the motion.
Raketty told the Tracker she had been photographing the front line as police and protesters were pushing one another back and forth along 11th Avenue. She said that she’d decided to perch herself on a nearby fire escape in order to take photos of the scene. To get there, she said, she’d had to walk behind an armored vehicle. She pointed to her press pass and was allowed to proceed.
While she was sitting on the fire escape, about 10 to 15 feet above a parking lot, an officer who had been at the front of the line parked his bike and wandered in her direction, she said.
In a video she posted on Facebook, the officer can be seen throwing an object, underhanded, in her direction. The video cuts off, she said, just before the object exploded.
“When I saw him throw it, immediately I tried to brace myself,” she said. “The video cuts. The blast goes off. There’s extreme ringing in my ears.”
Raketty told the South Seattle Emerald that she was disoriented from the blast and that she’d hurt her knee while twisting away from the explosion. She told the Tracker that months later she still has hearing damage in her right ear, which her doctor told her is permanent. She said that the blast ball also contained pepper spray, which made her cough.
Raketty said that her press pass, which she wore on a lanyard around her neck, was clearly visible. There were no protesters around her, and the only other people in the area were legal observers.
“I sincerely feel that I was targeted as a member of the press — as a credentialed member who was wearing a press pass — who had been taking photos throughout the day,” she said.
An investigation by the Seattle Office of Police Accountability into the use of the blast ball near Raketty found her allegations “not sustained,” but said the investigation was “inconclusive” because it is not clear whether the officer knew she was there. The report states that the officer had been instructed to dispose of a blast ball that had been activated in the parking lot, and said that the officer did not appear to notice Raketty was there.
The report says that police are taught to dispose of a blast ball if it is prepped and the pin has already been pulled. Raketty disagrees with the report’s conclusion, and noted that her video shows that the officer appeared to pull the pin right before throwing it in her direction.
Raketty also filed a declaration in the ACLU lawsuit.
The ACLU motion argued that the Seattle Police Department “repeatedly targeted journalists with brutal violence” on July 25. On Aug. 10, the court issued an order clarifying the initial preliminary injunction and barring police from targeting projectiles and chemical irritants at journalists, as long as they are displaying a press pass or wearing clothing that distinguishes them as members of the media.
Julie Davidow, a spokesperson for the ACLU, said in a statement that the injunction the court approved in August strengthened protections for journalists, as well as legal observers and medics.
“Since the clarified preliminary injunction was approved by the court, we have not seen journalists subjected to the same kinds of indiscriminate and excessive police force they faced while covering the demonstrations that took place in Seattle last summer in response to the murder of George Floyd,” Davidow said.
Seattle Police Department spokesperson Randy Huserik told the Tracker in an email generally that the use of force and crowd-control devices were being investigated by the department and acknowledged that the SPD had used pepper spray and flash-bang grenades that day.
“If journalists covering events choose to place themselves within a crowd where those devices may be deployed, they have the potential to be exposed to these devices,” he said.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.