Independent journalist Alissa Azar said she was shot with munitions and had a stun grenade and tear gas thrown at her by law enforcement officers while covering a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 20, 2020.
Azar was covering one of the many protests in Portland that have been held on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
Law enforcement officers in Portland have targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The ACLU suit led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists or legal observers of the protests. The injunction was expanded to include federal agents later that month.
On the night of Aug. 20, protesters gathered outside the building housing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in southwest Portland. Demonstrators sprayed graffiti on the building and tampered with the gate and windows, according to local news station KPTV, prompting officers from the Portland Police Bureau and Federal Protective Service, who emerged around 11:20 p.m., to confront the group.
Federal agents then began shooting pepper balls, stun grenades and tear gas at the crowd of protesters and press. The PPB was cited by KPTV as saying its officers didn’t fire crowd-control munitions or tear gas.
Azar posted a video on Twitter showing her getting hit several times, first with a stun grenade and then by some type of munitions. Soon after, she tweeted, “I had a stun grenade thrown at my ankle, tear gas canisters thrown at me got shot at. I’m ok just hurts.”
Freelance journalist Griffin Malone captured the incident from another direction in a video he published on Twitter. About 30 seconds into the video, Azar, wearing a visible press badge, is seen running away and saying, “Ow!”
In a follow-up tweet, Malone published a photo of Azar with a welt on her body, writing that Azar “was hit in ankle with flash bang and then shot at.”
Azar said she believes the officers purposefully fired towards her. “I was standing close to them when it happened. The canister and getting shot [by munitions] were both intentionally aimed at me,” Azar told the Tracker. “I was standing with a group of media who were all visibly press as well.”
A spokesperson for ICE referred the Tracker to FPS, a Department of Homeland Security agency that deployed to Portland, for comment, but the agency didn’t respond. PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.