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 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 when white privilege does not fully protect us.
Below I explain what happened. Friends feel free to share. Media, do not repost without permission.
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” who are 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 out by telling stories and bearing witness.
Last night (7/26) I was shooting photos from the center of the crowd when federal agents suddenly became more aggressive, firing lots of teargas and impact munitions into the large group of people. I retreated with the group, stumbling through the park across the street in clouds of tear gas. When I reached 4th street and got out of the thickest teargas, I stopped to figure out my next step. A line of federal agents (and possibly PPB) walked through the teargas cloud on Salmon toward the very dispersed group of people around me. We walked quickly away on Salmon Street following dispersal orders. There was suddenly a barrage of impact munitions fired around me so 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 to 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 street and began asking folks to help me find a medic. Shortly, 3 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 down the hill 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 back 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 teargas so 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 me and my wife, 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, we have to make this change. Black Lives do Matter.