Two journalists hit with projectiles during Portland protest

October 17, 2020

At least two journalists were hit with crowd-control munitions fired by law enforcement officers during a protest at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in Portland, Oregon, on Oct. 17, 2020.

Racial justice protests had been held regularly in Portland since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Several protests in the city have targeted federal government buildings, and on the evening of Oct. 17, protesters marched on the ICE building in South Portland.

Freelance photojournalist Cole Howard told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was following the crowd that evening when it arrived at the ICE building. He said protesters were attempting to tie balloons to the gate of the facility when federal agents moved in to confront them.

“This one specific officer had a can of mace and unloaded it into my face,” he said. “He aimed at me and then he aimed over. So it wasn’t like I was the only one who was hit in that moment.”

But he said it was definitely a direct blast, even though he was wearing press credentials, including a big press badge on his body armor and another on his backpack.

“I was very obviously press,” he added.

Howard captured the moment the officer sprayed him in a photo.

A video shot by journalist Justin Yau and uploaded at 9:09 p.m. showed Howard getting sprayed in the face with a chemical agent at close range as he tried to take photos.

Howard had a gas mask with him, but wasn’t anticipating getting hit with a chemical agent at that point and wasn’t wearing it. After being helped to safety about a block away, he said it took him 10-to-15 minutes to regain vision that was good enough for him to work. He said his skin burned for the next day.

“I always feel like my eyes are kind of foggy after that for a while,” he said. “But I don’t know if that’s something that’s proven on paper or just me feeling disoriented.”

Howard feels that he was targeted initially by the officer, but that they changed their aim when they realized aiming at a journalist “wasn’t going to look good on paper.”

Later that night, independent journalist Brian Conley was filming a standoff between federal agents and protesters when the agents began firing pepper balls and moving forward in an attempt to clear the street. Conley was pushed by one of the agents and then tripped over a person who was already on the ground. Tumbling to the ground, Conley dropped his phone. When he got up and tried to retrieve it, he said officers fired pepper balls at him.

“He barreled directly into me, knocked me into the ground,” said Conley of the officer who knocked him down. “Then when I went to get my phone, he started shooting the ground around me.”

Conley said he had press markings on his body armor and was visibly filming close to the agents when the incident occurred.

In a video Conley uploaded to Twitter at 11:43 p.m., the footage goes dark as Conley drops his phone and heavy pepper-ball fire can be heard before he picks it up again.

“I’m press, buddy! I’m press. You can’t shoot me!” he yells at one officer after he retrieves his phone. He then approaches another federal agent and says: “Tell your buddy to leave me alone.”

Conley told the Tracker he had “pretty bad” shoulder pain after the incident as well as a knot around the area where the back of his skull meets his neck.

The Department of Homeland Security didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incidents from the Tracker. ICE — which operates under the Department of Homeland Security — responded by telling the Tracker to contact the Department of Homeland Security.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting hundreds of incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd control munition or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country in 2020. Find these incidents here.

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

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