Late Thursday night, a federal judge issued an important injunction against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), an agency that has made national headlines this past week for its violent and potentially unconstitutional actions against protesters in Portland.
In a case brought by the ACLU of Oregon, the judge ruled that DHS was temporarily barred from arresting or attacking journalists or legal observers who are documenting the Portland protests and the federal government’s aggressive response to them.
You might think: How bad is it for journalists covering Portland that a judge has to step in? Very bad, and we have the data to prove it.
The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker — a project of Freedom of the Press Foundation and CPJ — has been systematically documenting press freedom violations during the George Floyd and Black Lives Matters protests for the past two months. We’re publishing here, for the first time, the data we’ve received from Portland since DHS invaded the city a week ago.
In the past eight days, we’ve received reports of at least 30 journalists who have allegedly been attacked by DHS agents — physically assaulted, sprayed with tear gas or pepper spray, or hit with projectiles.
Here’s a breakdown of the disturbing numbers. (Some journalists were injured multiple times).
Physical attacks: 6
Tear gas: 6
Pepper spray: 1
Equipment damage: 1
These numbers are preliminary and have not been fully confirmed, but many cases are backed up with real-time evidence posted to social media. Per our standard procedures, our reporters will independently confirm each case, and eventually document it on the Press Freedom Tracker website for the public record. In most cases, the write-ups will include an interview of the journalist affected.
Since the nationwide Black Lives Matter protests started two months ago, there have been more than 550 total incidents reported to the Tracker — almost quadruple the number of press freedom violations we documented in all of 2019. Up until last week, the vast majority of those incidents were carried out by local law enforcement, but since DHS troops invaded Portland last week, the federal government has been responsible for a almost all of the new reports.
This includes at least a few incidents that occurred after the judicial order was in place. Multiple videos and photos were posted to Twitter late last night, explicitly referencing the temporary restraining order:
There are at least two reports of journalists being hit in the head by projectiles fired from DHS weapons — rubber bullets or something similar — last night.
These attacks suggest that DHS agents are either purposefully targeting the press, or shooting their dangerous “less lethal” weapons into crowds so indiscriminately that they don’t care who they maim. In either case, it’s incredibly disturbing.
It is good news that a judge has issued this order barring DHS from engaging in these attacks. But as the past 24 hours have shown, the order must be strictly enforced, since DHS has so far shown complete disregard for the Constitution.
We’ll have more on this crisis as it develops. In the meantime follow the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker on Twitter for the most up to date information. And please consider donating so we can continue this important work.