U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Two journalists pushed by a Portland police officer while covering an arrest

Incident Details

Date of Incident
August 20, 2020
Portland, Oregon


Was the journalist targeted?
August 20, 2020

Justin Yau, an independent journalist, said he was pushed by a police officer in the early hours of Aug. 20, 2020, while attempting to film an arrest during a protest in southwest Portland, Oregon.

Yau, a student at the University of Portland whose work has been featured by the Daily Mail and The New York Times, was covering one of the many protests that had broken out across the U.S. in response to police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement after 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.

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. Yau provided a declaration in support of the ACLU suit, which led to the city agreeing to a preliminary injunction in July to not arrest, harm or impede the work of journalists or legal observers of the protests.

On the night of Aug. 19, Yau had been covering a demonstration at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, After a riot was declared, protesters returned to Elizabeth Caruthers Park, a few blocks north. Federal agents had pushed protesters out of the park before the Portland Police Bureau took over enforcement.

Shortly after midnight on Aug. 20, Yau was filming an arrest near the northwest corner of the park when the pushing incident occurred, he told the Tracker. A PPB sergeant approached Yau, and other members of the press, who were standing back from the arrest, to expand the perimeter. Then another officer started pushing Yau and other journalists back before dropping a tear gas canister at their feet.

In a video of the incident filmed and tweeted by Yau, an officer can be heard saying, “back up, back up.” Then the camera goes askew and the video cuts out as Yau gets pushed.

A different angle of the incident was captured and posted by Sergio Olmos of Oregon Public Broadcasting. Yau, wearing a black helmet marked “press,” can be seen getting shoved about 40 seconds into the video.

The PPB has said it wouldn't comment on incidents involving journalists covering the protests, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case.

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