On Eddy Binford-Ross’s second night reporting on the protests in Portland, federal officers let off enough tear gas to fill the street in front of the federal courthouse and an entire city park across the street. The smokelike plumes sent her scattering along with the protesters.
“I couldn’t see because my eyes were burning,” she told The Washington Post. “I couldn’t breathe because my throat was burning. I almost threw up because I was coughing so hard.”
Like many journalists covering the tense demonstrations, Eddy has faced serious threats: She has been tear-gassed every night, had three flash-bang explosives lobbed in her direction, been shoved against a wall by police, and had a federal officer repeatedly point a gun at her.
But Eddy may be the only front-line reporter regularly risking her safety to write for a high school newspaper.
Despite the danger and a few bruises, the 17-year-old has returned to downtown Portland every night to cover the standoff between local protesters and federal law enforcement officers from the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service. The photos, videos and scenes she has tweeted and published online have earned her high praise from professional reporters and activists.
Eddy is the editor in chief for South Salem High School’s Clypian. She’s also a teenager who, before last week, spent her time riding her Arabian horse, Duke, and interning for Democratic state Rep. Paul Evans while planning for the uncertain future of her senior year amid the coronavirus pandemic.
She first started reporting by watching a live stream of a protest on May 29 in Salem, Ore., in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis.
“I thought the live stream worked OK, but it would be better if I go out and report on it,” she said.
She was reporting on the ground the first time Salem police used tear gas on protesters and continued her coverage until those protests died down. When the news broke that federal officers were plucking protesters from the street in nearby Portland and shoving them into unmarked vans, Eddy said she knew she had to go cover the story there, too.
“It was kind of spur of the moment,” she said. “I felt like we should go see for ourselves. And it was crazy. It was chaotic, and it seemed unprecedented. I’ve come back every night since.”
Her parents agreed to let her report on the volatile protests as long as they could stand by her side and pull her out of the crowd if the protest got too dangerous.
Now, she and her parents drive 40 minutes from Salem, where they live, to Portland every night around 7 p.m. Eddy pulls out her camera and snaps photos for hours as federal officers confront people in the streets. No two nights unfold the same way, she said.
“The protesters’ attitude and dynamic, that completely shifts depending on the night,” Eddy said. “And we’ve seen federal officers taking different approaches every single night.”
Eddy walks to the front of the protest when she arrives in Portland, where the worst brutality in the ongoing battle between the feds and the locals plays out. She has documented lines of mothers, arm-in-arm to form a human barrier between federal police and young protesters, shoved back by police with batons. She’s filmed protesters ripping plywood from the federal courthouse’s facade and attempting to break the bulletproof glass in the windows.
“People kind of disregard me and just do what they’re going to do,” she said. “I feel like I can blend into the crowd and be a fly on the wall because I’m younger and because I’m smaller. I’ve been able to capture scenes that not as many people have been able to capture.”
Protest crowds in Portland can be ambivalent or outright hostile to reporters. Some groups establish “no journalism zones” and shout down people taking photos or videos that might capture people’s faces. On social media, many activists ask outlets, including the Clypian, to take down photos that could help police identify protesters.
“That’s kind of against journalistic ethics,” Eddy said, referring to the pleas for her to delete some of her reporting from Twitter. “I’m not going to go through and censor the coverage, because it’s important to provide accurate accounts of everything that’s going on. That includes protesters barricading the doors and trying to break in as well as the police firing indiscriminately.”
The protests have been dangerous for everyone on the streets, especially in recent days as federal officers have agitated activists by tear-gassing largely peaceful crowds, shooting a man in the face and making secretive arrests in unmarked cars.
Eddy’s parents accompany her to the protests, keeping a watchful eye as their daughter does her work.
“It’s really scary,” said her mother, Warren Binford. “I don’t want to encourage her to live on the sidelines in this society and this life. If that means being a journalist, then our role as her parents is to help her do that as safely as possible, recognizing being a journalist is never completely safe.”
On Tuesday, Eddy watched a woman step out from the crowd staged in the park across the street from the federal courthouse and walk into the no man’s land between federal officers and the protesters. The woman shouted at the officials, and one man ran toward her, baton raised in the air.
The teenager rushed forward to get a closer angle and raised her camera to photograph the moment the two people collided. As the officer glanced at her, the word “Press” emblazoned on her T-shirt and helmet, he paused and lowered the baton.
“If the federal agents know they’re being recorded, it might help them control themselves and de-escalate a situation that has become very dangerous,” her mother said. “If Eddy’s being there last night helped save that woman from injury, or even death because of the rage I saw in that federal agent, then I’m willing to let her go back out there.”
In another frightening moment, Binford watched as a federal officer pointed his gun directly at Eddy on Tuesday. A moment later, another agent told him not to shoot at members of the media.
“Even after that he turned back around and directed the gun at our 17-year-old child — that’s scary,” Eddy’s mother said. “Do you keep your child at home and wrap them in a bubble wrap? Or do you try to empower them to enter into adulthood with courage and wisdom? She’s going to be an adult next year.”
Tensions at the protests have been rising as federal forces have unleashed wave after wave of tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and other aggressive tactics. Protesters have responded by tossing tear-gas canisters back at the police, waving leaf blowers to clear the toxic smoke and using shields to force federal officers back into the safety of government buildings.
On Tuesday night, a federal officer was photographed pointing a handgun at protesters after a group wrestled with officers to help someone escape an arrest. By Wednesday, unsubstantiated rumors swirled online suggesting federal officers would have “live munitions” in Portland. Eddy’s mom picked up a bulletproof vest and a ventilator for her daughter to wear while covering the next night’s protest.
Despite the risks, the high school journalist doesn’t anticipate staying home any time soon.
“I don’t have any plans to stop now,” she said. “I feel like the protest could go downhill very fast. I think it’s incredibly important that people continue to be out there every night reporting on this.”