U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Police strike journalist with baton at Portland protest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 14, 2020
Portland, Oregon


Was the journalist targeted?
August 14, 2020

Independent photojournalist Sean Bascom said he was hit by police during a protest in Portland, Oregon, on the night of Aug. 14, 2020.

Portland had experienced regular protests since the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. On the evening of Aug. 14, protesters gathered in North Portland's Peninsula Park and began marching. According to The Oregonian, their intended destination was believed to be the Portland police union headquarters.

Just before 10:30 p.m., Bascom was filming at the intersection of Killingsworth Street and North Mississippi Avenue as Portland police officers charged a line of shield-bearing protesters and began pushing protesters and members of the media down the street.

Over a loudspeaker, police can be heard declaring an unlawful assembly, saying that “paint bombs and other projectiles” had been thrown at officers. They also can be heard addressing the press and legal-rights observers, saying that they would adhere to a temporary restraining order and allow them to do their jobs so long as they moved off the roadway and didn’t interfere with officers.

In July, a U.S. district judge issued a temporary restraining order barring police in Portland from using physical force against, dispersing, arresting or threatening to arrest journalists and legal-rights observers.

In a video Bascom shared with the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the journalist can be seen complying with police orders, walking on the sidewalk while continuing to film while moving north on North Mississippi Avenue.

Meanwhile, police were making arrests in the street, “knocking people down and dragging them across the pavement” Bascom said. At one point, Bascom moved between parked cars to film a protester being thrown to the ground by police. An officer can be heard shouting: “Get out of the street now!”

In the video, Bascom tells the officer he is a member of the press and then the camera shakes.

“He came barreling in out of my view and just yelled “press out of the street” and then immediately hit me, it must have been with his baton, like right in my ribs,” said Bascom.

Bascom said he was wearing bright clothing and a helmet with press markings. He added he was also using a camera with a large lens and that he believed it was clear to the officer that he was a member of the press.

He told the Tracker he felt sore for about a month, experiencing pain when he breathed deeply. He didn’t get the injury checked out by a medical professional, but said it felt like he previously had bruised ribs while snowboarding and skateboarding.

While he technically wasn’t on the sidewalk, Bascom said he wasn’t in the way of police actions and that the officer was taking advantage of a technicality.

“I can’t be in their way because of the cars that are parked on either side of me,” he said. “The Portland police seem to have decided that when they’re clearing a street if press are on the sidewalk, then they’re fine, but as soon as they step one foot off of the sidewalk, they are totally free to use as much force as they want.”

In a press release regarding the Aug. 14 protest, the Portland Police Bureau wrote that “several people with ‘press’ affixed to them shined flashlights in officers eyes.” A spokesperson for the PPB told the Tracker they were unable to comment on the incidents due to ongoing litigation.

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.

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