Videographer says federal agents fired tear gas and flash bangs at him and other journalists in Portland

July 18, 2020

Independent journalist Mason Lake said federal law enforcement officers fired tear gas and flash bangs toward him and other journalists covering protests in Portland, Oregon, on July 18, 2020.

Lake, a videographer based in Portland, 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. A video showed a white police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest in Minneapolis. Floyd was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July.

At around 2:30 a.m. on July 18, Lake was standing with a group of other journalists he didn’t know at Southwest Madison Street between Southwest Third and Fourth Avenues in downtown Portland. Federal officers stationed next to a federal office building fired tear gas and flash bang grenades near him and the others, he told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

A video of the incident shows journalists standing and filming while tear gas canisters and flash bang grenades land on the street. Lake, wearing a vest with the word “press” on the back, can be seen filming in the video, taken by Halospace Media, a nonprofit community media site, and tweeted by Boop Troop Eugene, an independent media group based in Eugene, Oregon that covers protests around the state. The person shooting the video can be heard yelling, “We’re all press!”

Lake posted a separate video on Twitter, shot several minutes later, that shows a group of federal officers turning onto Southwest Madison Street from Southwest Third Avenue as protesters hurry away from them. Then, flash bang grenades go off and tear gas spreads on the street.

“They threw tear gas canisters and flash bangs right at us,” Lake told the Tracker. “The concussions are loud enough that they cause temporary body trauma from the concussion impact. They’re not supposed to go off right next to people.”

Lake said he felt targeted because he was clearly marked as a member of the press, with the word “press” also written on his helmet, and was at the front of the demonstration with no protesters close to him. “They were attacking press pretty openly,” he said.

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 is documenting several hundred incidents of journalists being assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas, or having their equipment damaged while covering protests across the country. 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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