Beth Nakamura, a photojournalist for the Oregonian, said she was pushed by officers then struck with a baton while covering demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, on June 13, 2020.
Protests in the city that day were in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.
In Portland, nightly protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days. But even after the curfew was lifted, Portland law enforcement continued to target journalists, according to a class-action lawsuit filed on June 28 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The ACLU lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order against the Portland Police Bureau, and eventually led to a preliminary injunction in July barring the police from harming or impeding journalists and legal observers.
In the early morning hours of June 13, Nakamura was covering protests in downtown Portland around the Multnomah County Justice Center, which houses a jail, courtrooms and a police precinct. Most protesters were congregating in Chapman Square, across the street from the Justice Center.
At around 12:30 a.m., Portland police declared the demonstration an “unlawful assembly.” Officers fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades, then rushed into the park to clear the area of demonstrators.
“It’s a chaotic scene that unfolds quickly,” Nakamura told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker. “I was photographing and held up — which I always do — my I.D. and my camera. I was at the time saying, ‘Press, press.’”
When the police instructed her to move north, Nakamura obeyed.
“I turned around and I was walking, and I got pushed by a police officer,” she said. “Then I got batoned, slammed on the back as I’m walking.” When she tried to explain that she was with The Oregonian, the officer said, ‘I don’t give a fuck who you are,’” according to Nakamura.
“Physical assault is not normal,” said Nakamura. “It’s not something anyone should tolerate well. It’s not right.”
After Nakamura tweeted about the incident a couple of days later, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also holds the title of police commissioner, responded in a tweet: “This is extremely concerning. Journalists need to be able to cover the protests safely. I know @portlandpolice works hard to protect the rights of our press, but there are alarming incidents that need to be addressed.”
The Oregonian, Nakamura’s employer, and the Portland Tribune, Sparling’s employer, have both filed complaints about the incidents with the Portland Independent Police Review, an independent agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct.
“Both of those investigations are underway,” Ross Caldwell, the director of the Independent Police Review, told the Tracker. “We have a huge volume of cases, as you can imagine, so everything is taking longer than it normally does.”
In response to questions about the incidents involving Nakamura and Sparling, marched Carmon, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, told the Tracker, “We will not be commenting in regard to these two incidents at this time” because “there is a TRO in place and because the preliminary injunction is still an open litigation case.”
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.