Independent photojournalist Sean Bascom was pushed by officers several times, he said, including once when he was knocked down over another person while he was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, early on the morning of Sept. 27, 2020.
Bascom was documenting one of the many protests that had been ongoing for months in downtown Portland and across the U.S. in support of the Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. 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 a temporary restraining order, and later a preliminary injunction, barring the Portland Police Bureau from harming or impeding journalists. Olmos provided a declaration in support of the class-action lawsuit involving a previous incident.
On Sept. 26, a rally organized by the Proud Boys far-right extremist group drew some 800 people to Portland, while at least 1,000 counterprotesters gathered nearby, The Oregonian reported. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown had declared a state of emergency ahead of the rally, putting officers from the Portland Police Bureau, Oregon State Police and the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office under a unified command. After those protests ended, left-leaning demonstrators gathered downtown later that night, according to The Oregonian, and police declared an “unlawful assembly” around 11:40 p.m.
Videos posted on social media into the early morning of Sept. 27 show police pushing many people who were marked as “press.”
Bascom, whose work has been published in outlets including the Portland Mercury and the Portland State Vanguard, said he was pushed by law enforcement officers at several points during the protest.
In a live video shot just after midnight on Sept. 27, journalists can be seen walking away from law enforcement officers before the camera shakes. That was when an officer knocked him down over another person, Bascom told the Tracker.
Later, the video shows officers once again starting to push Bascom and other journalists, ordering them to move down the street. They can be heard telling Bascom to “Go faster!” and “Stop interfering and move!”
Bascom repeatedly tells them he is a journalist. One officer responds, saying. “I understand that you’re press, but you have to move.” As Bascom walks backwards filming the officers, one tells him, “Turn around so you don’t trip.”
In a video Bascom uploaded to Twitter around 1 a.m., officers can be seen pushing Bascom and other journalists with batons as they try to clear the crowd. About 80 seconds into the video, an officer grabs a photographer by his body armor and flings him back towards where Bascom is retreating. In his tweet, Bascom described the officers as being from both the OSP and the PPB.
“Normally there is an avenue for us to go, for press to step aside and exist and document. But on that night it was like building-to-building, wall-to-wall police and pushing, and there was nowhere for anybody to go,” he told the Tracker.
Bascom, who was wearing a high-visibility vest with press markings that night, said officers appeared to be targeting members of the press.
Afterwards, the ACLU called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate police treatment of journalists, The Oregonian reported.
Gov. Brown tweeted on Sept. 27 that she asked the individual law enforcement agencies to investigate any allegations about the use of force against members of the press or public. In a statement on behalf of the three agencies, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said it was aware that video had been taken of several incidents involving force, which would be reviewed to determine whether any officers violated law enforcement policies, according to The Oregonian.
A spokesperson for the PPB declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation. A spokesperson for the OSP said they weren’t aware of the incidents.