Photojournalist arrested while covering Portland protests, her phone damaged

September 7, 2020

Rach Wilde, an independent photojournalist working with Black Zebra Productions, told the U.S. Press freedom Tracker that she was shoved and arrested while covering protests against police violence in Portland, Oregon, on Sept. 7, 2020.

Wilde was documenting 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 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.

In the early hours of Sept. 7, Wilde said demonstrators had moved from PPB’s North Precinct toward a nearby parking garage. According to a news report, officers blocked off certain streets from the march and created a closure area. Wilde said the crowd started to dwindle and there was not a lot going on.

“Then a rush came and a bunch of folks started getting arrested and just picked off,” Wilde told the Tracker. Along with several other journalists and legal observers, she said she followed the officers to document the arrests. Soon after, officers asked them to leave and ordered them onto the sidewalk.

“Out of nowhere, the [Portland Police] Rapid Response van arrived and they beelined [toward us],” she said. “One officer on the team had over and over again targeted me at different demonstrations. She knew exactly who I was. She would stand next to me at every demonstration and follow me specifically.”

Wilde said the officer pushed her off the sidewalk right as she was stepping onto it. Another Black Zebra journalist there repeatedly told the officer that Wilde was a member of the press; Wilde said she also had a press pass around her neck.

“I have the entire thing on camera. It was very clear that she was targeting me,” Wilde told the Tracker. Her reporting partner, whom Wilde had been “standing next to the entire time this demonstration,” was not arrested. The officer placed Wilde in temporary handcuffs, took her phone and brought her to where the demonstrators were being detained. She said she was then transported to and processed at Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office for interfering with a peace officer and disorderly conduct.

Wilde said she was released several hours later, around 6 a.m., and that when she received her phone back, the screen was destroyed. “That was the day my charges were dropped, but I didn’t find out until a month later,” she said. Wilde was contacted by a pro bono attorney, who confirmed this information. “They [Portland police] had spelt my name wrong,” she told the Tracker.

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 spokesperson 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. When reached by email about this incident, Carmon said he had no additional comment.

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

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