Independent videographer Nicholas Lee said a Portland police officer shoved him, causing his head to hit the pavement, while he was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, in the early hours of Aug. 19, 2020.
The protest was one of many that have broken out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the May 25 death of George Floyd. 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 the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists or legal observers of the protests.
The protest Lee was covering began in the evening of Aug. 18 and stretched past midnight. After gathering in Colonel Summers Park in southeast Portland at around 9 p.m. protesters marched nearly a mile to the Multnomah Building, the county seat of government, on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Some protesters started fires in dumpsters and inside the building, according to The Oregonian, prompting the Portland Police Bureau to declare the gathering a riot around 10:30 p.m.
Lee, who had been shoved by a PPB officer earlier in the night, was pushed again by an officer just after midnight, he said.
“They gave me a shove, and my helmet fell off,” Lee told the Tracker. “Then the cops gave me a big shove when my head was unprotected. I fell right back and smacked my head on the pavement.”
A video published by independent journalist Justin Yau shortly after midnight shows the aftermath of the shove. Lee is seen on the ground, surrounded by a group of police officers. “Officers tackled a videographer @econbrkfst and knocked off his helmet, during enforcement actions earlier,” Yau wrote in the post.
Lee said that after being pushed, he went to the doctor and got checked for a concussion, but he didn’t have one. “But I got bad whiplash to the extent that when I laid in bed I couldn’t lift my head up. It was excruciatingly painful,” he said.
When reached for comment during ongoing protests in the fall of 2020, the PPB told the Tracker it wouldn’t be commenting on specific incidents, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. Then in early 2021, PPB spokesman Derek Carmon said the department is committed to upholding civil rights for all citizens, including by requiring officers to report any use of force for review. The PPB wasn't available for comment on this incident.