Judge blocks Portland police from using physical force against journalists

Journalist Justin Yau lies handcuffed on the ground with police officers standing over him at a demonstration in Portland, Oregon: ALEX MILAN TRACY via REUTERS

As protests originally sparked by the death of George Floyd continue in Portland, Oregon, a US District Court has issued a two-week restraining order barring the Portland Police Bureau from arresting journalists and legal observers or using force against them.

The order comes after the police arrested journalists who were covering a protest on Tuesday. One of them, Lesley McLam, was taken into custody.

The restraining order declares that the police “are enjoined from arresting, threatening to arrest, or using physical force directed against any person whom they know or reasonably should know is a journalist or legal observer … unless the police have probable cause to believe that such individual has committed a crime”.

Officers are also barred from seizing journalists’ and legal observers’ cameras or press passes, or ordering them to stop filming or observing a protest, unless they are being lawfully arrested – and even then, the police will have to return their equipment when they are released.

Ms McLam was covering the protest along with fellow journalists Cory Elia and Justin Yau, both of whom were also arrested. In the court’s decision, it is recorded that another journalist saw the three being arrested after the police were informed of their trade – and that Ms McLam’s press badge was removed during her arrest.

Portland is now entering its sixth week of protests, with people attending every day and night to demand the city’s police force reform itself.

Events took a turn on Tuesday night when officers declared the protest a riot and demanded demonstrators leave the area, driving them back with CS gas and ultimately arresting 29 people.

Along with the restraining order that has now been granted, the city is facing a class-action lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union over its treatment of journalists and observers, while local nonprofit Don’t Shoot Portland has asked a judge to find the city in contempt of orders to limit the use of gas and “less lethal” munitions on peaceful protesters.

In a thread on Twitter on Thursday evening, Mr Elia announced that he would no longer be covering the protests, citing exhaustion and the loss of his equipment.

“It is with great sadness that I must state that I am done covering the protests. It is not my choice. I have been stripped of most of my equipment, humiliated, and harassed on multiple occasions. I’m exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. It was made obvious that [Portland Police Bureau] no longer wished me to be reporting on the protests and they are now getting their way.

“There are still reporters able to cover the protests and whose work you will appreciate.”

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