U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Journalist hit with batons, shoved to the ground by law enforcement officers while covering a Portland protest

Incident Details

September 27, 2020

Independent journalist Alissa Azar was shoved and hit with batons by law enforcement officers while she was covering a protest in downtown Portland, Oregon, during the early morning hours of Sept. 27, 2020.

The protest was among the 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.

On the night of Sept. 26, several hundred protesters gathered in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center for a demonstration that lasted into the early morning hours, according to local news station KGW8. After an unlawful assembly was declared around 11:30 p.m., law enforcement officers “began bull-rushing and pushing protesters, press, and legal observers,” the article said.

A little after midnight, Azar was pushed around, hit with batons and shoved to the ground by officers while covering the demonstration, she told the Tracker.

“Before we knew it, a few riot vans came in and arrested three people just for standing in the street,” she said, noting that officers from the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office were working together under a unified command.

“They pushed us SO far. And by pushed I mean literally sprinting as fast as they could after us...I saw countless people get pushed and hit,” Azar tweeted at 12:25 a.m.

In a follow-up tweet, she wrote, “I got told to move and to ‘use my brain’ and ‘self accountability’ for saying I’m moving. I then got pushed to the ground, picked up by my backpack strap & pushed again then told to ‘stop flopping around.’ Wrist is already bruising and swelling & hurt my ankle.”

Azar sustained a minor concussion, numerous bruises, a thumb injury that required medical attention and a cracked phone screen, she said.

She had been wearing a vest and helmet, both labeled with press markings, she said, as well as a National Press Photographers Association press pass.

In a joint statement on that day’s demonstrations, MCSO Sheriff Mike Reese and OSP Superintendent Travis Hampton praised officers for maintaining safety and order while allowing people to exercise their rights.

When reached by email about this incident, the PPB declined to comment, citing pending litigation. MCSO didn’t respond to an emailed request for comment.

OSP spokesperson Timothy Fox told the Tracker that “if someone feels that excessive or improper force was used against them,” they may report it to the Office of Professional Standards for investigation.

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