Blair Stenvick, a reporter for the Portland Mercury, said they were assaulted by police on July 18, 2020, while covering protests in the Oregon city against police brutality and racial inequality.
Stenvick suffered abrasions and an ankle injury after getting pushed by police during a bull-rush of a crowd of protesters, despite a recent court order that had specifically prohibited Portland police from harming or impeding journalists.
The night of July 18 marked a string of continuous demonstrations in Portland for at least the previous 50 days following the May 25 death of George Floyd. The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting assaults, arrests and other incidents involving journalists covering protests across the country.
As one group of protesters returned to the main focus of ongoing demonstrations, the Multnomah County Justice Center and the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse downtown, Stenvick went to cover another protest outside the Portland Police Association office in North Portland.
In an interview with the Tracker, Stenvick describes seeing police use rubber bullets and smoke canisters. “I was always having to walk the line of trying to look out for my own safety but still being able to document things as well as I could,” Stenvick said.
At that point, Stenvick backed away and followed directions by police. While taking pictures from the outskirts of the gathering, Stenvick noticed that protesters had suddenly started running. Stenvick looked back and saw police in riot gear bull-rushing protesters.
“I could tell in that moment that I was already in danger, and so I started running also, following police orders,” Stenvick told the Tracker. “Also putting my hands up in the air just to show that I wanted to comply with orders and not be a threat to them.”
Stenvick said they yelled to the police, “I’m press! I’m press!” before being shoved to the ground.
“[It was] unnecessary [for them] to hit me because I was already running away, and wasn’t there as a protester,” said Stenvick, who had also been wearing a press pass. “Very clearly I wasn’t a threat to them, so [there] was a mix of ... anger, shock and disbelief.”
At around 11 p.m., Stenvick tweeted a picture of their abrasions on the knee and hand.
While Stenvick didn’t report this specific incident to police, they are involved in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon in June. The Portland Mercury is one of several plaintiffs in the case, which led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not to arrest or harm any journalists or legal observers of the protests or impede their work. Stenvick provided testimony about a separate incident as part of the preliminary injunction.
Derek Carmon, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, was unable to comment on this incident due to the ongoing litigation.
After the incident, Stenvick resolved to use the experience as a lesson about empathy. “Journalists ... use their own life experiences to relate to other people, so just seeing for myself — even just in that one instance — what it’s like to be unjustly treated by a police officer, I think that’s helpful for me to have some tiny little piece of understanding when covering these issues,” Stenvick told the Tracker.