Independent visual journalist Rodrigo Melgarejo was shoved by Portland police while covering protests in downtown Portland during the early morning hours of Aug. 21, 2020.
The protests were among many demonstrations that broke out in response to police violence and in support of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. 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 had 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 city agreed to a preliminary injunction in July to not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests or impede their work.
The demonstration on Aug. 20 began peacefully in North Portland with little interaction between police and protesters, according to The Oregonian. However, several protesters were arrested in a later demonstration outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in South Portland, where Portland police declared an unlawful assembly.
“Tonight, PPB declared an unlawful assembly, saying anyone not press was going to be arrested if they don’t leave,” Melgarejo wrote in a tweet at 3:21 a.m. on Aug. 21. “Yet I was shoved, down the sidewalk and into the street.” He told the Tracker he was wearing a ballistic vest and black helmet, both marked with press labels.
In a video accompanying the tweet, Melgarejo is facing a row of officers in riot gear. At 0:11, one officer states, “If you are not press, you need to leave.” Another repeats the same statement a few seconds later, adding that protesters who refuse to leave will be arrested. The same officer then begins to physically pressure people to move and says at 0:20, “Get out of my way. If you’re in my way, I’m going to push you.”
At 0:34, the camera suddenly jostles and an officer’s face can briefly be seen very close to the lens. Melgarejo continues to film one particular officer who repeatedly demands, “Move!” and pushes people forward. This continues for another minute until demonstrators, press, and officers are all on the street. At 1:29, an officer can be seen pointing right at the camera, yelling, “Get out of the street!” and then shoving him.
When reached by email about this incident, the PPB declined to comment citing pending litigation.