Sarah Jeong, an opinion writer for The New York Times and columnist for The Verge, said she was thrown down courthouse steps while reporting in Portland, Oregon, on July 21, 2021.
Jeong was covering one of the many protests that broke out 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.
The Portland protests, held nightly since late May, had grown more intense as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in early July. A temporary restraining order on July 2 that barred the Portland police from harming or impeding journalists wasn’t expanded to include federal agents until July 23.
On the night of July 21, the “Wall of Moms” and thousands of other demonstrators converged on the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse downton for another night of confrontations with the federal agents, according to the local KPTV news station. When some individuals began pulling off the plywood blocking access to the courthouse shortly after 11 p.m., federal agents emerged from the building to clear the area.
Jeong was standing in front of the courthouse in an area that is elevated several steps above the sidewalk, she told the Tracker. Federal agents exited the courthouse and swept right to left, clearing the crowd of protesters in front of the building, she said.
Jeong, who was standing in the center of the crowd, began to slowly back up while holding up her press identification, she said. Her helmet was also clearly marked “press.” A federal agent then pushed her down the steps, she said, adding that she believes the agent shoved her while trying to arrest someone near her.
Jeong went fully airborne and landed on her back. Her backpack protected her from further injury, she said, but she had a bad bruise and suffered whiplash for a few days after the event.
Soon after she was pushed, at 11:19 p.m., Jeong tweeted, “Curious if anyone got video of feds throwing me down the steps of the courthouse?”
While Jeong doesn’t have direct footage of the push, she did find a video posted by another Twitter user showing the events leading up to the incident. About 19 seconds into the video, Jeong can be seen wearing a white helmet clearly marked “press.” She appears again briefly around 27 seconds into the video, on the elevated part of the courthouse, as an aggressive arrest is being made.
“It’s really hard for me to imagine that they didn’t know that they were pushing a journalist,” Jeong told the Tracker, but added that she isn’t sure if she was targeted as a member of the press.
“I was not that close to other people, I was clearly not a threat, I was holding up my badge, I was being very purposefully non-threatening,” said Jeong, who gave a declaration to the ACLU about the incident in support of a restraining order against federal agents. Since the restraining order was granted on July 23, her declaration wasn’t included in the suit.
The Department of Homeland Security, which has coordinated the federal presence in Portland, said in a statement that officers were “forced” to leave the courthouse to repel a “mob” of protesters. DHS didn’t respond to a request for comment on this incident.