U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent journalist arrested, shoved at Oregon university protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
May 2, 2024
Location
Portland, Oregon

Assault

Was the journalist targeted?
No

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Portland Police Bureau
Charges
Detention Date
Release Date
Unnecessary use of force?
No
COURTESY OF ALISSA AZAR

Portland Police Bureau officers prepare to advance on students and other protesters at Portland State University in Oregon on May 2, 2024. Shortly after taking this photo, independent journalist Alissa Azar was arrested on a charge of criminal trespass.

— COURTESY OF ALISSA AZAR
May 2, 2024

Independent journalist Alissa Azar was shoved to the ground and later arrested by law enforcement while covering a pro-Palestinian protest at Portland State University in downtown Portland, Oregon, on May 2, 2024.

Students first erected an encampment on April 25, The Oregonian reported, calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Gaza war and for the university to sever any ties with Boeing, which is a supplier for the Israeli Air Force. Students then occupied the university’s main library, barricading one of the entrances.

Azar told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that she had been covering the student protests since they began. In the early morning of May 2, she said she received multiple calls informing her that Portland Police Bureau and Oregon State Police officers were on campus preparing to raid the encampment.

After initially clearing demonstrators out of the library, law enforcement engaged in standoffs with the students and other protesters, at times retreating before returning in what Azar characterized as violent pushes. She said it was during one of the latter instances that an officer shoved her to the ground while she was filming in front of the police line.

“I kept getting pushed with the baton and they were telling me to get back even though at that point it was physically impossible,” Azar told the Tracker. “I ended up getting pushed to the ground and immediately after the cops rushed the group and started hitting and shoving everyone.”

Following another period of retreat in which officers pulled back to a nearby campus building, Azar said, the demonstrators returned to the area around the library.

“I was standing next to a bunch of other journalists, reporters and photographers,” Azar told the Tracker, noting that the group included those from local outlets and a reporter from The New York Times. She said the journalists were standing in a city park across from the library.

She said that after some time the officers suddenly emerged from the other side of the building and began making arrests.

“I was standing there recording because they immediately went after random people. It was a really intense situation: Almost everyone I saw that was arrested had already been detained and had more than four cops on them,” Azar said.

In Azar’s footage of the incident, groups of police can be seen arresting each protester, and one officer waves at the journalist as he jogs past her. Seconds later, a Portland police officer approaches Azar and, in quick succession, says, “Leave. You’re under arrest.” He then pulls Azar’s arms behind her back and tells her that if she resists, force will be used against her.

Azar said she was detained at approximately 7 p.m. She added that she was wearing press credentials issued by the National Press Photographers Association and believes the police targeted her for arrest.

“Exactly one minute before my video of my arrest started, I took photos of two of the cops, one whispering to the other and just staring at me,” Azar said, sharing the photo with the Tracker. “After I was arrested they made a handful of comments about me and ‘our time together in 2020,’ because I was out there reporting almost every night at that time.” Azar extensively covered Portland protests against police brutality following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, that year.

Azar told the Tracker she was transported to the Multnomah County Justice Center, where she was processed and placed in a cell.

She noted that when she was able to make a phone call to the National Lawyers Guild’s Mass Defense Hotline, officers played an alert that said “no third-party caller” every 10 to 15 seconds. “The person on the other end of the line said they sometimes do that to certain callers to mess with them,” Azar said.

Azar told the Tracker she was released at around 1:30 a.m. the following day, charged with one count of criminal trespass. Her initial appearance hearing is scheduled for June 7.

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