Amy Katz: On the Front Lines in Portland

I was shot last week.

I was shot in the early morning on July 29, while walking in a single file line with about 10 other journalists: our hands in the air waving our press passes, which was highly redundant since we all had PRESS or NEWS MEDIA written in big bold, white glowing letters across our dark hats and shirts and camera bags. We were yelling, “Press” to further identify ourselves. The men in US military camouflage and gas masks had refused to identify themselves or the particular agency who employed them, and they couldn’t have cared less who we were. Or, they aimed at us because they knew exactly who we are, and they were emboldened to express their feelings about the “liberal media” with their weapons.

They aimed right at us with guns that look identical to assault rifles, that shoot hard rubber or plastic bullets and large metal canisters that light on fire and emit clouds of noxious tear gas that blanket entire neighborhoods, and cause horrific pain, nausea, and long term health effects.

Over ten days in Portland, I was tear gassed over twenty times. On the particular night that they shot me, almost half a dozen Federal agents had just wrestled one woman to the ground who had no idea why they were arresting her: they bloodied her face by throwing her onto the pavement, and smashed another man against the wall after they threw him down a flight of stairs. As I was photographing these arrests, two agents pushed me, with brute force, and tried to keep me from filming. It didn’t matter that there were already two restraining orders against the Portland police, and one against the federal agents, restricting them from wounding journalists or keeping us from reporting on the protests. It didn’t matter that this is the USA with the Constitution that guarantees rights of Free Speech and Public Assembly to everyone, and Freedom of the Press.

These men have been sent to democratic cities across the country and have been empowered by the President of the United States to use chemical weapons and what they call “non-lethal” ammunition: both of which are causing such serious wounds to hundreds of people that have inflicted brain damage and permanent physical disability in many, and extreme trauma in the masses. They tear gassed the Mayor of Portland last week. They tear gassed ACLU Legal Observers, residents who weren’t involved in the protests at all but just happened to be coming home at night. They tear gassed local business owners.

There were so many other things I wanted to write about in this blog related to the experience of covering the protests. I wanted to tell you about the person I interviewed about “Antifa.”

What is Antifa? I wondered. The President has made it sound like a terrorist organization, implicating them in causing riots, and pointing to them as the cause of federal agent attacks. (There was nothing going on anywhere close to a riot, before I was shot.)

I discovered from speaking to one man, who is Jewish (and later many others), that Antifa means “anti-fascist,” and applies to people who stand up to neo-Nazis and KKK members at hate rallies. They put their own bodies between Jews or Blacks and the Nazi or KKK members. Antifa is not a group and it’s not an organization: it’s a philosophy that says, “ yes, if fascists are trying to harm Jews or blacks or any other people, the anti-fascists won’t let that happen and will use whatever means are necessary to stop them.”

Stopping the people who are stopping the neo-Nazis is the excuse given for the federal agents to be here using chemical weapons on us, and to shoot at us and anyone within a half mile of the federal courthouse, which was the site of the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland since George Floyd was murdered by police in Minneapolis.

I am a photojournalist. I am also a Black Lives Matter ally. Am I an anti-fascist? When federal officers began striking a woman who was crying and screaming on the ground, beating her with sticks and clubs, I asked them to be gentle with her. No other Media people said anything: my speaking up to these man in these uniforms — even my saying one word to them —could have gotten me arrested or beaten in the head and face like she was being beaten, or it could have gotten me pepper-sprayed like the Vietnam vet who was explaining to these agents what had happened in Vietnam. “You don’t know, but I followed orders like you are, and we killed hundreds of innocent people…” One of the federal agents silenced him by raising a giant can of mace and spraying it directly in his eyes.

Perhaps you’ve seen the Wall of Moms or the Wall of Veterans on the news. Did you also see that their bodies have been riddled with bullets, shrapnel, and teargas by people wearing the same uniforms the veterans did who swore to uphold the Constitution? That is why so many conservatives and Republicans came out to the protest, many whom had never been to a protest in their lives. That is why a physician came in from Eugene on the last day, and a barber from Mississippi, and people from all over the country. Because this is the tipping point. 

The Veterans at the protest are even more upset than me that their government would tear gas them and chase them down the street with guns, for legally protesting in front of a Federal Courthouse. People who have followed the law to the letter in most cases.


I also wanted to tell you and show you the beautiful portraits I took of Black women and men from Washington DC: the fire dancing and paintings and drumming; the women with their gorgeous braids and dangling earrings: the art and posters from the BLM protests in Los Angeles and New York and Santa Barbara. I wanted to tell you about the weirdness and confusion and camaraderie I witnessed being in the Seattle “CHOP/CHAZ Zone” for the last three days before the police returned to move back into their precinct, which I think was a relief to many of the protesters, and to me.

But right now my body hurts too much to focus on the arts, the aesthetics, and the Community. At best, I have images in my mind’s-eye of the protest medics who were beside me in a heartbeat that first night I arrived in Portland: after driving 20 hours, I got out of my car, walked to the street corner, and, before I knew what was happening, had a federal agent toss a tear gas canister at my feet. At all the other protests, there had been no tear gas or assaults by police.  So I didn’t know what those white clouds were— fog, or smoke—  I was blinded, and incapacitated to such a degree that I could not move. I  began coughing and gagging and couldn’t breathe. It didn’t matter that I had showed the Federal Agents my press pass, or that I was wearing nothing but a dress and a Covid mask, so I was obviously not an “Anarchist” dressed all in black.  They didn’t care who I was.

The protest medics didn’t care either, but in a good way: the opposite way. They were there to help everyone who needed it.  They lovingly tended to me, pouring water, than Salone, into my eyes. They patted my face with homemade anti-teargas remedy, and walked me a block or so away to safety as my eyes were closed. I had to trust these complete strangers to save my life. I was having trouble breathing when I finally got to the hotel, and called the paramedics.

That was the same night I met another journalist who handed me goggles, and the next day, got me a gas mask. It would be another two days before I figured out how to wear it properly so that I wasn’t suffering repeatedly from tear gas as I was trying to do my job.  I remember them, and I remember the numerous African-American protesters who were beyond frustrated and angry at the few people —perhaps anarchists or infiltrators—who started small fires, or threw water bottles over the fence of the Courthouse. These small actions — a handful of people out of thousands— were then used as justification for the federal agents attacking anyone on the streets they wanted in the name of taking up arms against the “anti-fascists.” Because remember, “Anti-Fascism is bad” to a government that supports fascism.

If you don’t think there is a war going on in our country right now between the fascists and the anti-fascists, those who support white supremacy and those who support equality, then watch the videos of the federal agents attacking innocent people.

And if you don’t know if they are truly innocent, than just consider that I was shot: an American, a patriotic citizen, a Jew, a member of CBB, who went there to work as a photojournalist. I was shot last week by federal agents in US military uniforms, sent by the President of the United States to stop the Black Lives Matter protests.


Amy Katz is a photojournalist and member of CBB. She has been travelling and covering the protests across the country.