U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Videographer hit with tear gas canister during Portland protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 20, 2020
Portland, Oregon


Was the journalist targeted?
August 20, 2020

Videographer Melissa Lewis said a tear gas canister fired by law enforcement struck her in the head while covering a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 20, 2020.

Lewis 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.

Lewis said she was hit with the tear gas canister during that same round of law enforcement fire, though the incident wasn’t captured on video. “I was standing in an area that was exposed. They shot a tear gas canister, and it hit me right in the head,” Lewis told the Tracker. “Thankfully I was wearing a helmet and my gas mask.”

Lewis then went to a hospital emergency room for treatment, she said. She tweeted the next day that she likely had a “mild concussion.”

Lewis said that while she didn't feel personally targeted by the officers, she does believe they were targeting the press assembled there.

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.

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