Our Opinion: Policing has its place. So does journalism
People have jobs to do in our society.
For instance, the people who write the news stories that appear in this paper and others in the Pamplin Media Group — their job is to report on what is happening in the community, talking to people who are knowledgeable and often bearing witness to newsworthy events.
Another example would be the police. As we've written here on this page multiple times recently, their job is to protect people, ensure their constitutional rights and conserve the peace.
So we are struggling to understand why it is that since the death of George Floyd in late May, and the protests that have erupted against police violence since then, journalists have repeatedly found themselves under attack by the police — harassed and sometimes assaulted outright for doing their job, by people who aren't doing theirs.
To some extent, we get it: Adrenaline is fighting with exhaustion, and sometimes accidents happen. Protests have turned violent and destructive at times, and while police have at times escalated the violence themselves, they do have a duty to protect lives when the situation gets out of hand.
Unfortunately, though, this has become a pattern.
We've seen video of journalists appearing to be deliberately targeted by police with "impact munitions."
An Australian news crew in Washington, D.C., was on the air when Lafayette Square was infamously cleared out by riot police on June 1; even as they scrambled to get out of officers' way, one began beating them with a riot shield as cameras rolled.
In another instantly notorious on-air incident days earlier, on May 29, CNN reporter Omar Jimenez, a Black man, was singled out and arrested while filming a stand-up segment in Minneapolis.
And on June 13, one of our own was assaulted by a police officer in Portland, even after clearly identifying himself as a journalist.
Zane Sparling of the Portland Tribune, our sister paper, is one of many Portland-area journalists who have spent long nights recently, sometimes for many days in a row, to cover street protests in downtown Portland.
On this night, he was withdrawing from the scene of a brawl between protesters and police. When he saw police barreling his way, he stepped around a corner to avoid a collision. One of the officers came after him.
In a Tweet that has been seen more than 466,000 times, Sparling can be heard shouting, "Media!" The officer shoves Sparling into a wall and shouts, "I don't give a (expletive)! Get down!"
Watch video shot by Portland Tribune reporter Zane Sparling on June 13, 2020. This video contains strong language.
If this were a one-off incident, we'd be concerned, and we'd express those concerns with the mayor and police chief, which we've done.
But it's part of a larger pattern.
As reported by The Oregonian/OregonLive.com, veteran photographer Beth Nakamura said an officer shoved her forcefully from behind with a baton, the night before Sparling's assault.
Nakamura said she was holding her press ID, camera in her hands above her head and had been following the police orders to leave. When she identified herself as a journalist, she says the officer responded with an expletive and said he didn't care.
The Oregon Territory Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has begun gathering anecdotes such as these.
On June 5, police officers reportedly drew weapons on an associate of broadcaster Robert Evans while she was attempting to get a license plate number of a pickup that nearly ran into them.
On June 6, independent reporter Sergio Olmos was pushed by an officer while trying to communicate and comply; he was wearing visible press ID. (Olmos has written several stories for the Portland Tribune). The contact is caught on video.
Also on June 6, Donovan Farley, a contributor to Willamette Week, said that after identifying himself as press and disengaging from recording an arrest, a Portland police officer beat and pepper-sprayed him while Farley was walking away from the scene, his back turned.
The list goes on.
This cannot keep happening — not in Portland, not to Pamplin Media Group reporters, not anywhere, not to anybody.
We understand that journalists covering violent protests are taking risks. That's part of the job. And, we are very aware that many protesters, including several demonstrating peacefully, have suffered much more serious injuries from police than the journalists listed here.
But if there is an organized attempt by rank-and-file Portland police to intimidate accredited journalists, then we cannot overstate how serious a situation that would be. Journalists are on the streets, risking their safety, telling all sides of these confrontational protests, so that Oregonians can get a full, independent account of what's going on.
Journalism is the only job embedded in the U.S. Constitution, and it's there for precisely such history-making events as these.
This past weekend, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the city of Portland over these violations of journalists and legal observers' constitutional rights. While the Pamplin Media Group is not a party to that lawsuit, it has strongly urged city leaders to rein in police and halt any attempts to intimidate or otherwise silence members of the media.
"The free press is a core and important right in this country that helps keep the government in line," wrote attorney Matt Borden, representing the ACLU in its civil suit.
We have another message for local and state officials as well: The Pamplin Media Group will continue covering this protest movement, whether it's demonstrations outside the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, student-led marches in Tigard and Tualatin, or vigils in Forest Grove and Banks.
We will continue to hold law enforcement agencies and elected officials accountable. That includes the Portland Police Bureau. That includes the Oregon State Police. And that includes the Washington County Sheriff's Office, which has spent the past month trying to distance itself from a jail deputy now facing charges of felony assault from a troubling incident for which he was never even suspended from work in 2018, let alone criminally charged — despite attacking a defenseless inmate on video and causing likely permanent brain damage.
This isn't a vendetta, and it isn't activism. This is our job. People rely on journalists to keep them informed, the same way they rely on the police to keep them safe.
We'll do our job. We expect the police to do theirs. And if they don't, we will hold them to account.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.