Feds injuring Portland journalists as protests boil over
Jon House is no stranger to tear gas, flash grenades or pepper spray.
But when federal officers shot the Portland Tribune photographer with a crowd-control impact round, something had changed.
House said he didn't pose a threat to anyone, and he wasn't embedded within a larger crowd disobeying orders. So he began to wonder: had his press badge become a bull's eye?
"This felt like the first time that I was specifically targeted," said House. "That rubber bullet was six inches from putting me into the hospital."
The veteran photojournalist was holding a camera above his head and filming a demonstrator waving an American flag when he heard one loud pop and felt a swelling pain on his left forearm. The injury happened just after midnight on Tuesday, July 21, near the crumbled base where an elk statue once stood in downtown Portland.
Federal agents moved in to clear the crowd. My arm got shot with an impact munition as I was taking this video (near the end). pic.twitter.com/fgCrYhymPO— jonathan house (@jonhouse_) July 21, 2020
"This wasn't a situation where there was a big group of people threatening the lives of officers, and they're firing everywhere," said House, noting that he had several large pieces of camera equipment strapped to his body, as well as a press badge. "This was one shot, right near my head."
Mark Garber — publisher of the Portland Tribune and president of its parent company, the Pamplin Media Group — said police should not use force against journalists doing their jobs.
"To be clear, our journalists are there as observers. They are not protesting. They are not rioting. They are doing their jobs to document the protests, the damage being done by the rioters, and the police response to these incidents," Garber said in a statement.
House isn't the only journalist to be caught in the middle on confrontations between bands of camouflaged feds and the resurgent protest movement laying nightly seige to the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse in downtown Portland.
Mike Baker, a reporter for the New York Times, tweeted out that federal officers were throwing people to the ground and firing less-lethal bullets when one agent "ran at me and punched me in the head, knocked me to the ground."
The feds came rushing out aggressively. Throwing people to the ground, tear gas, firing less-lethals. One ran at me and punched me in the head, knocked me to the ground. I'm ok. pic.twitter.com/3fZ8VzzPwh— Mike Baker (@ByMikeBaker) July 21, 2020
Wire service photographer Alex Milan Tracy was also struck with an impact round while covering the Sunday night protest that stretched into Monday morning, July 20.
Tracy told the Tribune he was documenting a man using a hockey stick to slam tear gas canisters back toward the feds when he was hit squarely on his ankle joint.
"It was extremely painful, and as a result, I became kind of incapacitated, overwhelmed with pain," he said, adding the experience "has made me more terrified of the reality of covering these events every night, when the federal officers are involved."
Normally adept at dodging gusts of tear gas, Tracy said his injury caused him to be engulfed by a noxious cloud. He eventually found treatment with a street medic, and spent the next two days at home icing his leg.
Both he and House agree that federal officers will fire at people standing at a distance from them. At the time of his injury, Tracy was wearing a helmet stenciled with the word press — with lettering the same size as the nondescript "police" badges worn by the feds.
"Based on the amount of injuries the press is sustaining, they are targeting us," said Tracy. Journalists have been injured throughout the nearly 60-day-long protest streak, which primary involved local authorities until President Donald Trump ordered agents to protect monuments and buildings on June 26.
Both a Portland Tribune reporter and an Oregonian/OregonLive photojournalists have use of force investigations pending with the Independent Police Review commission. Independent journalists have also been arrested by the Portland Police Bureau, most recently Andrew Jankowski, a local culture writer who faces two charges for covering a protest on June 16. A number of protesters have also filed lawsuit after allegedly sustaining injuries.
Garber, this newspaper's publisher, said the violence must stop now.
"These assaults on journalists are wrong," he said, "and the police agencies involved must instruct their officers to respect the rights of a free press and allow us to do our jobs without intimidation."
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