Researcher documenting Portland protests hit by pepper ball

March 11, 2021

Independent researcher and scientist Juniper Simonis said they were targeted and hit by a pepper ball fired by federal officers while covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, on March 11, 2021.

Simonis said they have been publishing information for several months about law enforcement’s use of chemical irritants at protests on Twitter, for a research and activist group called the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium, and with other outlets.

According to local NBC-affiliate KGW8, a crowd gathered outside the Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland to protest against police violence shortly after the courthouse's surrounding fence had been taken down. The article says that around 9 p.m., photographs of smashed windows, burning flags and graffiti-sprayed walls surfaced online. Federal officers responded with tear gas, arrests and chemical munitions, according to CBS-affiliate KOIN6. Protests have been taking place in Portland regularly starting in spring 2020, partly linked to Black Lives Matter but also around issues such as defunding police, environmental actions and other social justice issues.

Around 11:30 p.m., Simonis said they were near the intersection of Southwest Fourth Avenue and South Salmon Street where federal officers had deployed what they identified as an "HC grenade," which stands for hexachloroethane. This common ingredient in smoke devices has been classified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a likely carcinogen, and could be potentially deadly, according to The Oregonian.

"I was shot in the right boob as I was picking it up and putting it in a container," Simonis told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. "The pepper ball left significant bruising over the next week."

Simonis documents and collects the physical items to add to a munitions library collection that the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium is developing into a research archive. Closer to midnight, Simonis found another HC grenade a block over near South Salmon Street and Southwest Fifth Avenue.

Simonis said they had a press badge, a card they made that had their photograph with the publications they write for listed and the word “PRESS” in large letters, visibly displayed. "They [officers] call me doctor and professor," they added. "They know who I am. I'm also a 6 feet 2 inches visibly trans person…they definitely targeted me."

Simonis also said they experienced negative symptoms in the days following this incident with the HT smoke. "That's why I'm researching it," Simonis said. "For me, that translated to diarrhea, massive lethargy for two days — very common with heavy metal poisoning — and I also had Costochondritis. That is basically inflammation of the cartilage around your sternum."

The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment. 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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