Zane Sparling, a journalist for the Portland Tribune, said he was shoved by an officer and then hit in the foot with a crowd-control munition while covering demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, on June 13, 2020.
Protests in the city that day were in response to a video showing a white police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, a Black man, during an arrest in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25. Protests against police brutality and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement have been held across the United States since the end of May.
In Portland, nightly protests over the death of Floyd began on May 29, prompting Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare an 8 p.m. curfew that lasted three days. But even after the curfew was lifted, Portland law enforcement continued to target journalists, according to a class-action lawsuit filed on June 28 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Oregon. The ACLU lawsuit resulted in a temporary restraining order against the Portland Police Bureau, and eventually led to a preliminary injunction in July barring the police from harming or impeding journalists and legal observers.
On the evening of June 13, Sparling told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker he was covering demonstrators who were yet again gathering in Chapman Square downtown. A little after 10:30 p.m., the Portland police declared the protest an “unlawful assembly” and began to fire crowd-control munitions and tear gas to clear the square. Sparling followed a group of about 50 protesters who fled the area and then formed a line on Southwest Main Street, next to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
As the police were warning protesters that the downtown area was closed and they needed to leave, Sparling — who was filming the scene with his cellphone and had a camera strapped around his neck — moved to the sidewalk so he could document the scene away from the crowd.
“As a journalist, I was staying out because that’s when people want observers on the ground: when munitions are going and orders are being enforced with force,” he told the Tracker.
When the police started to charge toward the demonstrators, Sparling turned the corner onto Southwest Park Avenue. “But the officer appeared around the corner as well,” he said.
Footage that Starling posted on Twitter at around 11:50 p.m. shows an officer running around the corner and — right after Sparling calls out that he was “media” — shoving him into a wall. The officer could be heard saying, “I don’t give a shit.” and ordering him to leave the area.
“I didn’t break any bones. But it was a scary moment,” Sparling told the Tracker. “I was on the sidewalk not doing anything other than my job, other than being there and trying to observe.”
Sparling wasn’t unsure if the police targeted him because he was a journalist, noting that although his camera was hanging from around his neck, his press badge may have been hard to see.
After getting shoved, Sparling walked down the rest of the block to leave the area. As he was walking away, a crowd-control munition hit his foot, leaving a red welt, he said.
The Portland Tribune, Sparling’s employer, and The Oregonian, Nakamura’s employer, have both filed complaints about the incidents with the Portland Independent Police Review, an independent agency that investigates allegations of police misconduct.
“Both of those investigations are underway,” Ross Caldwell, the director of the Independent Police Review, told the Tracker. “We have a huge volume of cases, as you can imagine, so everything is taking longer than it normally does.”
In response to questions about the incidents involving Nakamura and Sparling, marched Carmon, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, told the Tracker, “We will not be commenting in regard to these two incidents at this time” because “there is a TRO in place and because the preliminary injunction is still an open litigation case.”
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.