By Trip Jennings
Federal agents shot me in the face last night while I was covering the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland. It should be obvious to everyone by now that black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) face a higher risk of violence at the hands of police than I do. I'll never know what it's like not to be white, but protests do provide an interesting moment for white people when our privilege doesn't protect us.
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To everyone who believes that the only people who get hurt at protests are those who have been violent, that's wrong. To those who think it is only "other people" not like you, that is also wrong. I am a professional journalist, a father-to-be, I run a business, I create jobs for other people. I'm a landlord, a neighbor, a friend, and I want to live in a world where black people and all BIPOC feel the freedom I normally do. I hope to help by telling stories and bearing witness.
On the night of Saturday, July 25, I was shooting photos from the center of the crowd when federal agents suddenly became more aggressive, firing lots of tear gas and impact munitions into a large group of people.
I retreated with the group, stumbling through Chapman Square and across the street in clouds of tear gas. When I reached 4th Ave. and got out of the thickest tear gas, I stopped to figure out my next step. A line of federal agents (and possibly PPB) walked through the tear gas cloud on Salmon St. toward the very dispersed group of people around me. We quickly walked away on Salmon, following dispersal orders.
Then, there was a sudden barrage of impact munitions fired around me. I ducked behind a car. Protesters in the street were positioned behind shields being pelted with pepper balls, foam balls, and maybe some sort of paintball and/or rubber bullets. I captured a few images and waited. Once the shooting stopped, I used the moment to try and get a safe distance from the advancing federal agents. I walked swiftly, hands and camera in the air, ducked behind a tree some distance down the block, and turned to see if I was far enough away to be safe.
As I turned, I was pelted with what I think were pepper balls. One hit the lens of my gas mask on my left eye. The plastic broke, lacerating my eye, eyelid, and cheek. I knelt down to assess and when I realized I could walk and see, I ran to 5th Ave. and began asking folks to help me find a medic. Shortly, three medics responded. I took my gas mask and helmet off and one said, "Oh my God, that's bad." I cannot say enough good things about these medics. I am beyond grateful for their work, but that reaction wasn't my favorite part.
In a moment we were in their car on our way to the hospital. Unfortunately, the car was facing downhill toward the troops. They had advanced and we had to pull forward to leave the street parking. In a moment they were surrounding the car, pointing flashlights and guns at us. I pressed my face close to the window, pointed to my now very bloody face, and yelled "hospital." The medics slowly backed up as the feds shot the vehicle with more impact munitions. No windows were broken. On the way to the hospital, we drove through clouds of tear gas so the windows stayed shut and the pepper spray on my clothing and bag choked us all.
In urgent care, the doctor left the room multiple times as the pepper on me caused her to cough uncontrollably. She wore a respirator to stitch my eye. As I left the hospital near sunrise, another protester was being admitted with the same injury.
I have the option of going to a protest and putting myself at risk of police violence. Or I can choose to stay out of harm's way. For black Americans, there is no opting out of the risk of police violence in everyday life. This was incredibly scary and stressful for my wife and I, but we know we only have to experience this once in a while, and when we do it's often by choice. Many people in our community live with this fear every day. This has to stop, and we have to make this change. Black Lives Matter.
Trip Jennings is a producer and videographer with Balance Media and National Geographic. He and his wife live in Portland.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.