Student journalist covering Portland protests says federal agents threw a flash-bang grenade toward her

July 18, 2020

Eddy Binford-Ross, a 17-year-old student journalist, said federal agents threw a flash-bang grenade toward her on July 18, 2020, while she was covering protests in Portland, Oregon.

Binford-Ross, editor in chief at her high school student newspaper in Salem, Oregon, said flash-bang grenades landed near her on two separate occasions that night — one before midnight on July 17 and one after — but only the second one seemed targeted at her. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after the May 25 death of George Floyd, considers a targeted crowd-control incident an assault.

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. Binford-Ross is a plaintiff in the class action suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon.

July 17 was the first night Binford-Ross had covered the Portland protests since federal agents had been deployed to the city. The first flash-bang grenade incident occurred shortly after 10 p.m., she said.

Demonstrators had gathered around 7 p.m. at the Multnomah County Justice Center for a candlelight vigil. Binford-Ross was outside the Justice Center when federal agents started ordering people to move. “Anyone who stepped into the street [got] shot with their crowd-control munitions,” she told the Tracker.

Binford-Ross moved down a block, where she met two acquaintances from Salem who were livestreaming the events. They were half a block away from protesters when a federal agent threw the flash-bang grenade over the wall near her. “There wasn’t any warning or anything…it was like 10 feet away from us…it was a blinding shock,” Binford-Ross said, adding she was temporarily deafened.

The second flash-bang grenade was thrown sometime after 1:30 a.m., as federal agents were advancing on protestors in Chapman Square. Binford-Ross was standing off to the side away from the protesters, she said, wearing press identification around her neck and carrying a large camera.

As federal agents advanced on the crowd with guns drawn, one of them threw a flash-bang grenade towards her that exploded near her feet, stunning and deafening her again. “They shot right towards me…it came within 10 feet of me again,” Binford-Ross said.

She was recording at the time, and her mother, Warren Binford, posted the video on Twitter. “These are concussive devices & they targeted a child,” her mother wrote.

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

“It doesn't seem like something that would happen in the U.S.,” Binford-Ross said. “It felt like something you would experience in a war zone, especially when the people who are shooting the munitions towards you are unidentifiable federal agents, from undisclosed federal agencies and they’re in camo, like soldiers.”

Binford-Ross, who covered more than 30 BLM protests in Portland and Salem for her school paper, The Clypian, over the summer, said she never planned on a career in journalism until she saw the value of reporting during this time. “It was a real lesson in perseverance and dedication and also personal safety,” said Binford-Ross, who said her tweets about the protests were used by ABC, Reuters, Yahoo News and other outlets.

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

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