U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Independent photojournalist arrested while covering Portland protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
January 5, 2021
Portland, Oregon

Arrest/Criminal Charge

Arresting Authority
Portland Police Bureau
Unnecessary use of force?
Courtesy Sean Bascom

Photojournalist Sean Bascom captures the moment when a Portland Police Bureau sergeant singles him out for arrest while he was covering protests on Jan. 5, 2021. Bascom said the charges were subsequently dropped.

— Courtesy Sean Bascom
January 5, 2021

Independent photojournalist Sean Bascom was arrested while reporting on a protest in Portland, Oregon, on Jan. 5, 2021.

Protesters had gathered near the North Portland precinct of the Portland Police Bureau, demonstrating in reaction to the announcement that day that no charges would be filed against Wisconsin police officers involved in the shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23, 2020.

Racial justice demonstrations had been held regularly in the city since the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25.

Bascom, a photojournalist whose work has been published by outlets such as the Portland Mercury and the Portland State Vanguard, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he’d been following the demonstrations near the police building on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Killingsworth Street. According to Bascom, some protesters had set a fire in a dumpster in the street, and another had removed a security camera from the fence around the precinct.

Bascom said at one point he went around to the side of the building and took some photographs through a fence of officers in the precinct’s parking lot. Several officers came over to the fence, Bascom said, with one asking if he was “real press.” He said he told them that he was a freelance photojournalist and explained how freelancing works and why he didn’t have a credential issued by a specific outlet.

Soon, more protesters gathered at that side of the fence, Bascom said, and police issued warnings, causing protesters to scatter. Police then moved up the street, he said, pushing protesters back from the area.

Bascom said that he was standing near other journalists and some protesters across the street from the precinct building in a parking area for several businesses when one sergeant pointed at him and directed officers to arrest him.

Bascom said that he had the word “PRESS” marked on his helmet, and he identified himself as a journalist as he was being arrested. He said he’d spoken with the sergeant who pointed him out for arrest earlier in the night, and the officer had said that he wasn’t a real member of the press.

Video posted on Twitter by photojournalist Justin Yau shows Bascom, wearing a black helmet marked “PRESS” with a camera hanging around his neck, being arrested.

Bascom said police handcuffed his wrists behind his back and brought him into the PPB precinct. He said that officers bagged up his personal belongings and that he was held in a cell for about 20 minutes, before being released with a citation for trespassing and interfering with a police officer.

Bascom said that the charges had been dropped and he never needed to appear in court.

A spokesperson for the Multnomah County district attorney confirmed that the state declined to prosecute and that the case is closed. The PPB did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker documents journalists assaulted, arrested, struck by crowd-control ammunition or tear gas or who had their equipment damaged in the course of reporting. Find all incidents related to Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests here.

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