unidentified photojournalist, KATU News

KATU camera operator assaulted, camera damaged amid Portland protests

November 19, 2021

At least two members of a KATU News crew were assaulted by a group of individuals while covering unrest in Portland, Oregon, following a high-profile jury verdict in Wisconsin on Nov. 19, 2021.

Protests began after a jury acquitted 18-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of first-degree intentional homicide and four other felony charges for killing two men and wounding a third in Kenosha in August 2020. At that time, the city was the site of heightened Black Lives Matter and anti-police brutality protests after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black resident, during a summer of ongoing civil unrest that followed the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minnesota in May. In 2020, Downtown Portland saw more than 100 straight days of protests, many centered around the Multnomah County Justice Center.

Protests were centered again around the justice center on Nov. 19. In a video published by KATU, an individual in black bloc — a technique of dressing in all black to avoid identification — can be seen crossing the street to where the news crew is standing and asks what the crew is filming. “The protest,” one of the journalists responds. The individual then asks why, to which the journalist responds, “To send a message for you.”

“You’re not trying to send our message,” the individual says. “You’re not here trying to get our message.”

During the interaction, approximately six other people approach the news crew, which begins to move down the street away from the protest. An individual appears to reach out and grab the journalist who was answering the questions, but a voice can be heard saying, “Let them walk.” At some point during the interaction, a smoke bomb appears to be activated in the center of the group.

Multiple individuals continued to walk alongside the crew, with one wrapping his arm around the first journalist, when a voice calls out “Stop filming,” to which a second person responds, “Yeah, we’re going to turn that camera off right now. We’re advising you to turn that camera off right now. Turn that fucking camera off right fucking now!”

As the camera operator attempts to continue walking away, another individual runs up to him screaming that he will break the camera. In the ensuing scuffle, there is an audible crack of something breaking.

KATU reported that the news crew was uninjured but the camera was damaged. Neither the station’s news director nor general manager could immediately be reached for comment. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker also documented the assault of one KATU photojournalist and damage to their equipment here.

The following day, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty released a statement upholding the right of the press to film and condemning the attack on the KATU news crew:

"I’m still learning the full details of what occurred last night but want to make it clear that attacking or intimidating the press is never acceptable, such as what happened to a KATU crew last night."

In 2020, the Tracker documented seven assaults of journalists covering protests surrounding the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha. Find documented aggressions against journalists following the November 2021 Rittenhouse verdict here and at Black Lives Matter protests here.

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

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