Independent journalist Mason Lake said an individual assaulted him while he was covering a demonstration in Portland, Oregon, on July 21, 2020.
The Portland-based videographer 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 by late July as the presence of federal law enforcement increased in recent weeks.
Sometime before midnight the evening of July 21, Lake was filming around the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse in downtown Portland, where protesters had been engaging in confrontations with federal law enforcement officers.
Then an individual at the demonstration came up to Lake and started accusing him of being a snitch and of filming protesters’ faces, Lake told the Tracker, adding that he responded by questioning why he was being singled out when there were many other cameras that were filming protesters’ faces.
“It escalated from there,” he said. In a video captured by Sergio Olmos, a journalist for Oregon Public Broadcasting — which Lake later retweeted — someone in a black hoodie can be seen punching Lake, who was wearing a gas mask and helmet, in the face several times.
“He took the first swing,” said Lake. “Once he hit me it got my mask out of the way, so I couldn’t see. The crowd rushed in and pulled him off me.”
Lake, who didn’t suffer serious injuries from the attack, told the Tracker he wasn’t sure who punched him. He said he wasn’t informing on protesters or filming their faces, and that his camera was aimed down at the time of the confrontation. Portland protesters have worried that footage of them at demonstrations could lead to arrests.
The assault on Lake came over a week after some Instagram and Twitter accounts accused Lake of being a “snitch,” or police informant, Lake said. The claims were posted after Lake had published videos of federal law enforcement arrests of protesters on his Twitter account.
The social media posts targeting Lake included screenshots of text messages purporting to be from Lake in which he admits to sending footage of protesters to the police. Lake, however, told the Tracker that he never sent those messages and that they were photoshopped.
“On Facebook, people started bombarding me and banning me in protest groups that I shared my photos in,” said Lake, adding that he started receiving death threats on social media and in texts. “I was in fear of leaving my house of people jumping me.”
The night after the initial assault, Lake was attacked again by protesters in an incident that sent him to the hospital. He wasn’t filming at the time.
Lake has also been repeatedly shot at with crowd-control munitions by federal and local law enforcement officers while documenting protests in Portland. After getting shot by a projectile that injured his arm on May 31, Lake filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland over the alleged battery by the police.