Independent videographer Mason Lake said he was hit with crowd-control munitions by federal law enforcement officers while covering protests in Portland, Oregon, during the early morning hours of July 20, 2020.
Lake said federal officers hit him nine times with pepper balls, including three times in the head. He said he was clearly identifiable as a member of the press.
The Portland-based journalist was filming one of the many protests that broke out in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July.
Around 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on July 20, Lake was filming from the front lines of a protest near Southwest Salmon Street and Southwest Third Avenue downtown, where the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse is located, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.
Video posted by Lake on Twitter shows federal agents stationed in front of the courthouse advancing on the protesters and shooting munitions. As flash-bang grenades and tear gas canisters go off, a smoking canister can be seen flying back toward the officers.
Lake said that federal officers hit him nine times with pepper balls, which are projectiles roughly the size of paintballs that discharge an irritant when they hit a person. He was wearing a gas mask to protect himself from the pepper and tear gas, with the word “press” clearly displayed on his helmet and vest, he said.
“I felt three at my legs, and then three in my chest, and three in my face and visor,” Lake told the Tracker. “They targeted right for my face.”
Lake said the pepper balls interfered with his ability to document the protest. “That pepper stuff fades in and becomes a chemical burn, so I ended up leaving,” he said. “They’re paintballs filled with pepper. When they hit you, it’s like cutting onions times 10.”
While a number of federal agencies had officers in Portland in July, it wasn’t clear to Lake which agency the officers were from. The Department of Homeland Security, which coordinated the federal presence in Portland, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
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.