Four journalists shoved by law enforcement officers while documenting Portland protests

November 4, 2020

Four journalists were pushed by law enforcement officers while covering demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, on Nov. 4, 2020.

The journalists — documentary filmmaker Lance Bangs, independent photojournalists Mason Lake and Maranie Staab, as well as a member of a press collective called the 45th Parallel Absurdist Brigade who asked to remain anonymous — were documenting protests on the day after the election.

Protests had been held in Portland on almost a nightly basis since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering BLM protests across the country.

There were two main demonstrations in Portland on Nov. 4, with one group calling for every vote cast in the U.S. presidential election to be counted and another expressing a combination of dismay with the electoral system and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. While the protests were organized separately, the two groups converged briefly at one point in the night. After some protesters smashed windows of downtown businesses, law enforcement officers declared the protests a “riot” at around 6:45 p.m.

Several law enforcement agencies were involved in policing the protests, with the Portland Police Bureau, Multnomah County Sheriff's Office and Oregon State Police all working together after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown ordered a “unified command” to respond to protests. The Oregon National Guard was also activated to help with enforcement.

The initial round of shoving incidents occurred a little after 8 p.m. near the corner of Southwest Park Ave. and Southwest Washington Street, where a group of journalists got caught up in a push by law enforcement officers to clear protestors from the area.

Lake was documenting law enforcement officers arresting someone on the ground when he got shoved, he told the Tracker. A video of the incident published on Twitter by freelance journalist Sergio Olmos shows police and state officers pushing multiple protesters and apprehending someone on the ground. The footage captures a state trooper pushing Lake, wearing a helmet marked “press” on the back and sides, several times before finally pushing him to the ground about 25 seconds into the video.

“I was shoved to the ground,” said Lake. “My hand and knuckle had a bruise on it, so I think a baton hit me.”

In footage of the incident that Lake posted on Twitter, Staab — wearing a black T-shirt and vest marked “press” — can be seen getting shoved about 18 seconds into the video.

“I was filming the same arrest everyone else was,” Staab told the Tracker. “It was an aggressive arrest. I was standing out of the way, not interfering, with a press vest on. But that did not stop officers from turning around and shoving me out of the way.”

Meanwhile, the member of the 45th Parallel Absurdist Brigade, who requested anonymity out of fear of harassment and threats from far-right groups, was pushed by a police officer several times upon arrival at the scene. A video posted on Twitter shows law enforcement officers running down the street as protesters back away. A Portland police officer then pushes the journalist several times.

The journalist told the Tracker that there was a crush of people around the arrest. “They were pushing and I couldn’t back up,” the journalist said. “They were shoving us into a wall of bodies.”

About three hours later, the journalist was pushed again by what appears to be a member of the National Guard. A video posted on Twitter a little after 11 p.m. shows members of the National Guard and the police walking down Southwest Taylor Street and shouting, “Keep moving!”

“I was walking on the sidewalk with other media and was filming the line [of officers],” said the journalist. “All of a sudden I heard, ‘You’re going too slow,’ and felt this yank.”

In another video tweeted a few minutes later, the journalist wrote, “Being on the heels of the people in front of me was not fast enough, they begin grabbing me and others by the backpacks and shoving us back through the line.”

In response to the Tracker’s inquiries on this incident, Stephan Bomar, public affairs director of the Oregon Military Department, which oversees the National Guard, said in a statement: “It appears as though during this chaotic situation that all remained safe and secure.”

About a block away, Bangs was also shoved by an officer while taking footage for Vice News. Video posted at 11:18 p.m on Twitter by Tess Owen, a senior reporter for Vice who was covering the protests with Bangs, captures law enforcement officers yelling “Move!” at protesters. Bangs was “repeatedly jabbed in back by an officer assigned to unified command, who then dragged him to the ground,” Owen tweeted.

In a follow-up tweet, Owen posted a video that she said shows Bangs being “dragged to the ground by an officer with the Unified Command.” The video appears to capture a law enforcement officer pushing as the camera goes askew. People can be heard saying, “You’re dragging him,” and, “He got pushed down.”

Bangs, Owen and Vice News didn’t return requests for comment from the Tracker.

Since July, law enforcement officers from the PPB and federal agencies have been barred by court rulings from arresting, harming or impeding journalists or legal observers of the protests. The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon didn’t include the state police or National Guard when it filed the cases.

The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing the continuing ACLU litigation. The Oregon State Police didn’t respond to a request for comment on the shoving incidents.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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