Videographer struck numerous times by federal officers in Portland

July 22, 2020

Federal officers struck Black Zebra videographer Johnny Lynch multiple times and dragged him to the ground as Lynch covered protests against police violence in Portland, Oregon, on July 22, 2020.

Black Zebra Productions, based in Sacramento, California, is a video production company that has drawn thousands of views for its livestreams at Black Lives Matter protests across Sacramento. Company videographer Lynch was in Portland covering one of the many protests that continued for months in that city following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.

On the night of July 21, protesters gathered outside of the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland. A report issued by the Department of Homeland Security said that about 2,000 people had gathered by 10:30 p.m., when “rioters started to launch mortar-style fireworks over the fence at the federal courthouse and officers.” The DHS report also said protesters attacked a fence put up around the courthouse. In response, federal officers deployed tear gas, flash bang grenades and other crowd control munitions for several hours to break up the crowd, according to news reports.

In an interview with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, Lynch said federal officers rushed protesters numerous times to disperse the group and deployed crowd control munitions, including tear gas and pepper balls.

"There was tear gas everywhere," Lynch told the Tracker. “I got my gas mask back on and went out to the Justice Center and that's when the rush happened."

In a live stream shared on Facebook by Black Zebra Productions, federal officers can be seen running towards a crowd of people at 1:24:03 into the video. Lynch said the rush began shortly after midnight July 22. Lynch, who is wearing an orange helmet, is caught in the commotion and pushed to the ground. A few seconds later he can be seen running away from the officers and smoke that is enveloping the crowd. Another video posted by Black Zebra shows, in split screen, the attack as seen from the livestream alongside footage from Lynch’s camera. In Lynch's perspective, which is in the top frame of the video, a federal officer's baton can be seen slamming down towards the camera.

"They said move, I turned around, and then they hit me," Lynch told the Tracker. "They hit me a couple of times [and] dragged me into a cloud of tear gas that had just started to go off." He said another officer hit him while he was being dragged on the ground.

"This was very obviously a group of camera people," Lynch said. "That officer was standing there next to me for at least long enough to have seen my camera.”

Lynch said he had been wearing press passes issued by The Sacramento Bee and Black Zebra Productions. He said he lost his lens hood, sustained several bruises across his body and suffered nausea from the tear gas. After he left the scene, he said he regrouped with his team and they continued documenting till 2 a.m. on July 22.

DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment on the incidents.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country. The Tracker documented a previous incident involving Black Zebra here.

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

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