Independent videographer Nicholas Lee said a police officer pushed him and smashed his phone on the street while he was covering a protest in Portland, Oregon, on Aug. 18, 2020.
The protest was one of many 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.
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. The ACLU suit 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.
Around 8 p.m., protesters gathered in Colonel Summers Park, in southeast Portland, and about an hour later marched nearly a mile to the Multnomah Building, the county seat of government, on Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard. Some protesters started fires in dumpsters and inside the building, according to The Oregonian, prompting the Portland Police Bureau to declare the gathering a riot around 10:30 p.m.
Lee arrived at the protest around that time and witnessed police officers pushing demonstrators away from the Multnomah Building and making several arrests, he told the Tracker.
About an hour later, while Lee was covering some protesters several blocks away from the building, he said, Portland police officers told protesters and press to remain on the sidewalk.
“There were several cops there. I’m on the sidewalk with other members of the press. They’re like, ‘Move! Move!’ pushing us back,” said Lee.
At one point during the crush on the sidewalk, a police officer took his phone, he said.
”I was holding it, and it had a tether attached to it and it was around my wrist. [The officer] grabbed my phone and tried to wrench it away from me,” Lee told the Tracker. “He pulled on it so hard he got it out of my hand and then smashed it on the street.”
The police officer damaged his phone when he threw it on the street, said Lee. “It wasn’t broken, just cracked. There wasn’t significant damage, but I had to replace the screen protector,” he said.
Later in the night, after midnight, Lee was shoved again by an officer, he said. The Tracker documented the Aug. 19 incident here.
When reached for comment during ongoing protests in the fall of 2020, the PPB told the Tracker it wouldn’t be commenting on specific incidents, citing continuing litigation in the ACLU case. Then in early 2021, PPB spokesman Derek Carmon said the department is committed to upholding civil rights for all citizens, including by requiring officers to report any use of force for review. The PPB wasn't available for comment on this incident.