Freelance journalist shoved, camera damaged during Portland protest

September 27, 2020

Freelance journalist Michael Elliott said he was repeatedly shoved by law enforcement officers, damaging his camera, while covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, early on the morning of Sept. 27, 2020.

Elliott told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was documenting one of the many protests held for months in downtown Portland and across the U.S. in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.

Law enforcement officers in Portland have targeted journalists since the outbreak of the demonstrations, according to a class-action lawsuit filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The ACLU suit led to a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, barring the Portland Police Bureau from harming or impeding journalists.

On Sept. 26, a rally organized by the Proud Boys far-right extremist group drew some 800 people to Portland, while at least 1,000 counter-protesters gathered nearby, The Oregonian reported. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally, putting officers from the PPB, Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office under a unified command. After those protests ended, left-leaning demonstrators gathered downtown later that night, according to The Oregonian, and police declared an “unlawful assembly” around 11:40 p.m.

Videos posted on social media into early the morning of Sept. 27 show police pushing many people who were marked as “press.”

Elliott, who says his work has been published by VICE, Oregon Public Broadcasting and Willamette Week, among others, told the Tracker he was one of the journalists repeatedly shoved by officers using their batons shortly after midnight. At least six other journalists also reported being shoved, pushed or grabbed by law enforcement officers that night.

“I was literally pleading with the law enforcement [officers] to stop pushing me because they were pushing me into protesters who were pushing back,” Elliott said. “They were relentlessly pushing us, a group predominantly of press, and the press was essentially trampling each other at that point.”

Elliott added he believes that at some point during the incident, one of the officer’s batons struck his camera, cracking the glass of his camera’s viewfinder. He said that in addition to his camera, he was wearing a press credential around his neck and a helmet labeled “PRESS.”

The following day, the ACLU called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate police treatment of journalists, The Oregonian reported.

Gov. Brown tweeted on Sept. 27 that she asked the individual law enforcement agencies to investigate any allegations about the use of force against members of the press or public. In a statement on behalf of the three agencies, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said it was aware that video had been taken of several incidents involving force, which would be reviewed to determine whether any officers violated law enforcement policies, according to The Oregonian.

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 PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. A spokesperson for the Oregon State Police said they weren’t aware of the incidents.

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

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