Photojournalist grabbed by backpack, shoved by police while covering Portland protest

September 26, 2020

A law enforcement officer grabbed independent photojournalist Maranie Staab by her backpack and shoved her while she was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, late on the night of Sept. 26, 2020.

Staab 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.

Earlier in the day 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 counter-protesters 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.

Shortly before midnight, Staab was standing next to several other journalists when an officer grabbed her by her backpack and shoved her away.

Independent journalist Rodrigo Melgarejo captured the incident in a video posted on Twitter. Staab, wearing a black vest clearly marked with “press” in large white letters, can be seen standing next to several other people wearing press vests as police officers tell people to leave. An officer abruptly reaches toward her from her right, spins her around by her backpack and pushes her forward.

Retweeting Melgarejo’s video later that day, Staab wrote, “@PortlandPolice continue to unlawfully target members of the Press. While they’re clearly marked. And on the sidewalk. And in no way interfering. This is an affront to our Constitution & democracy. This is taxpayer funded abuse.”

After the incident, police began rushing a group of journalists who were on the sidewalk, Staab told the Tracker, adding that she and other members of the press were pushed and shoved back by police.

Staab believed she was targeted because she was a journalist, she said.

The ACLU called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate police treatment of journalists that night, The Oregonian reported. Photojournalist John Rudoff was also pushed to the ground by police while covering the same protest, shortly before midnight. Melgarejo and journalists Sergio Olmos and Sean Bascom were also shoved by law enforcement in the early hours of the morning.

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 didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the bureau has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing the continuing ACLU litigation.

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

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