'You're not press' - Police arrest media at Portland protest
Two independent journalists were labeled "fake press" by a Portland Police Bureau sergeant who then arrested them for trespassing while they stood on a public sidewalk, video evidence shows.
Photographer Sean Bascom, who is multi-racial but sometimes presents as white, had his camera gear released to him after less than an hour in custody inside the bureau's North Precinct on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Milton Waldrop — a popular Black livestreamer who uses the name PDX Ninja — said police seized as evidence the cell phone he uses to record video, a mobile hotspot, his self-defense equipment and other supplies.
"We've been trying to say this for a long time. They treat people unfairly, especially people of color," Waldrop said. "If people don't see this, it's just going to keep happening."
Authorities declined to comment on the disparity in treatment, citing "ongoing litigation regarding members of the press covering civil unrest." Bascom and Waldrop face identical charges — trespassing and interfering with a police officer — and both men wear badges and labels identifying themselves as media.
"It's hard to get emotional about anything they do to you anymore," Bascom said.
The late-night protest on Jan. 5 was something like standard fare for a city that has seen hundreds of demonstrations, including a dozen-plus outside the North Portland police station. Black-clad protesters set two dumpsters ablaze and attempted unsuccessfully to tear down chain-link fencing blocking access to the parking garage on the precinct's northeast corner.
Protesters also threw glass bottles, paint and other objects at officers, destroyed surveillance cameras and electrical wiring, and damaged a squad car's tires using a homemade spike strip, according to a news release.
Bascom and Waldrop said police announced that protesters standing near the fence were trespassing, though local property records show the bulb-out corner and sidewalk in that area are legal rights-of-way.
"As soon as they said that I stepped back," Waldrop said. "I was obeying orders."
Waldrop's livestream shows he was arrested while standing across the street from the North Precinct on the Killingsworth Street sidewalk. The sergeant, his rank indicated by a three-chevron insignia on his sleeve, said "you're not press" shortly before turning off Waldrop's camera.
Bascom was arrested a few minutes later while also standing on the far side of the street. He said the sergeant, whose helmet number is 506, pointed him out to other officers before telling him he was not press.
"That sergeant was certain that I was fake press in his mind," said Bascom, noting that any protest arrest, regardless of the legal outcome, "comes with a paper trail" and exposure to online harassment.
Bascom's arrest was filmed by local reporter Justin Yau. "At the time of his arrest, he was clearly on the sidewalk taking photos," Yau told the Tribune. A houseless trans woman was arrested and later booked downtown a minute after Bascom was detained.
Portland Police has just exited the building and conducted targeted arrests. At least one person with cameras and Press markings have been arrested. Officers say the charge is trespassing. #PortlandProtest #PDXProtest #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/2cZNn1yxpu— Justin Yau (@PDocumentarians) January 6, 2021
Waldrop said his possessions won't be returned until the case is resolved — and while both journalists are likely to have their charges dropped under the rubric established by Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt — it might take awhile.
A spokesman for the DA said no charging decision has been made yet because their office hasn't received the police reports. Their citations aren't scheduled for court until Feb. 3, he added.
"They took the stuff that I need for work," Waldrop said, but "you cannot take away my First Amendment."
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