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Portland: Journalist recounts being shot in the face by police

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  • Trip Jennings, a videographer who has worked with PBS and National Geographic, was shot by law enforcement with a less-lethal round while covering a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon.
  • Speaking to Business Insider, Jennings recounted the moment that federal agents began firing tear gas and pelting protesters with rubber bullets.
  • “I had a helmet on. I had a flak jacket on. As soon as I exposed something that was vulnerable, which was my face, they shot me,” Jennings said.
  • Jennings was rushed to the hospital by volunteer medics. He said, a day later, that the hemorrhaging in his eye is even worse.
  • “I’m hoping there’s no permanent damage,” he said.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Trip Jennings doesn’t know why law enforcement agents Portland shot him in the head, nor if there will be lasting damage to the eye in which he was struck with a less-lethal round.

But the videographer for PBS and National Geographic fully understands that if this can happen to him — a 6’2″ white guy with a fancy camera around his neck; a veteran journalist complying with a police order to disperse — then what about those without that privilege?

“It’s a rare moment where my white privilege doesn’t fully protect me,” Jennings said in an interview with Business Insider on Monday, hours after checking out of the hospital where he was treated for a hemorrhaging eye.

“I know in almost any situation that I interact with the cops, I might get in trouble if I’ve been speeding but I’m not going to die,” he said. “This is one of the few moments in my life, in the United States, where I wasn’t sure.”

A veteran journalist who has covered protests around the world, Jennings was a block and a half from the Portland Federal Building in Oregon’s largest city, the scene of daily clashes between protesters and a growing assortment of US law enforcement deployed by President Donald Trump, when around midnight he heard a muffled order shouted through a loudspeaker. 

He doesn’t know what caused the protest to be declared an illegal riot, but he is clear about what happened next.

“It was accompanied by a lot of tear gas and a lot of impact munitions,” he recounted. “I hunkered down behind some of the activists’ shields and shot some photos. And then there was just too much tear gas to stay.”

Hundreds of people then took flight, including Jennings, fleeing the cloud of burning chemical agents.

“It was like a scene from a movie,” Jennings said. “This giant cloud of tear gas began to part and move in the wind and expose this line of law enforcement in camouflage and black armor, marching up the street.”

“All the sudden there was just a barrage of impact munitions all around me,” he recalled, referring to less-lethal rounds, such as rubber bullets and beanbags, that are intended to inflict damage short of mortality. He remembers one protester’s shield being repeatedly slammed by what he believed to be pepper-spray projectiles.

When the shooting stopped, “I figured that was a good time for me to leave,” Jennings said.

It wasn’t. Minutes later, his back to the line of police, away from any crowd, camera in hand, Jennings stopped by a tree, and turned around to check the distance now between him and law enforcement.

“I had a helmet on. I had a flak jacket on,” Jennings said. “As soon as I exposed something that was vulnerable, which was my face, they shot me.” 

He could walk, so he went to find volunteer medics nearby, who cared for his bloodied eye — the munition had shattered his gas mask — and loaded him in a car that police then shot up with more less-lethal rounds, he said.

Jennings is not the first journalist to be shot in the eye at a Black Lives Matter protest. It happened to Linda Tirado, a freelance journalist who told Business Insider that she was blinded by a “non-lethal” but life-changing projectile. Over one weekend, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, monitors documented over 100 police attacks on credentialed members of the media, including TV crews on the receiving end of a less-lethal volley.

For Jennings, who awaits an appointment with a specialist for his damaged eye, the whole ordeal is “a setback.”

“I’m hoping there’s no permanent damage,” he said.

It’s also a revelation.

“I remember being in a class years ago; a talk from another AP photographer. He said, ‘wear your press vests and do your job and you will be fine,'” Jennings said. “That, in my experience, has always been the sort of agreement that we have.”

Last week a US District Court judge restrained federal agents from using non-lethal force against journalists and legal observers. The Department of Homeland Security, which has agents in the city, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the incident.

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