Independent photojournalist John Rudoff said he was hit with pepper balls by police on June 19, 2020, while documenting a protest in downtown Portland, Oregon.
Portland-based Rudoff, whose work has appeared in The New York Times, CBS and ABC, was covering one of the many protests that have broken out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement 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.
In Portland, nightly protests over Floyd’s death began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare a curfew that lasted three days. Even after the nightly curfew was lifted, journalists continued to be targeted by the Portland Police Bureau, according to a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon in June. Rudoff is a plaintiff in the suit, which resulted in a temporary restraining order and an agreement by the city of Portland in July not to arrest, harm or impede any journalists or legal observers.
On the night of June 19, as Rudoff was documenting a protest near the Multnomah County Justice Center, police began to disperse protesters and press from the area. When Rudoff showed the police his press identification and camera equipment, and one officer responded, “Move, move, move, we don’t care if you’re media,” Rudoff wrote in his declaration for the ACLU suit.
Later that night, Rudoff was taking photographs at the Justice Center when someone from the crowd of protesters went onto the steps of the building. “Shortly afterward, the police stormed out and began firing without warning, and I was hit” by pepper balls, he said in the filing.
Rudoff, who was wearing a helmet marked “press” when he got hit, told the Tracker he believed he was targeted by PPB because he was clearly marked as press and wasn’t near the protesters.
“I intentionally stand away from crowds as best I can, and intentionally I’m dressed in light colored clothing as much as possible,” he said.
PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing the continuing ACLU litigation.