Hey readers 'n' pals!
So a few days ago I was talking with an out-of-town friend who was VERY interested in the ongoing Portland protests, and DOUBLY interested that I occasionally cover them on the ground for the Mercury. They had seen the quick, 10-second videos on TV news that depict Portland streets as war zones, rather than the hours of peaceful chanting from hundreds of protesters.
“Aren’t you scared being out there?” they asked.
“Only of the cops,” I replied.
This info broke their brain a bit. But hey, I get it! It’s hard to suddenly stop seeing the police as a benevolent, protective organization instead of the one that’s slowly transformed itself into a militarized force that no one asked for.
Of the many reporters out in the field during these protests, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. Sure, I’ve been gassed, experienced flash bangs whizzing past my head, and have been told in no uncertain terms by officers that I was not allowed to do a job that is clearly protected by the First Amendment.
However I have not been shoved or slammed into a wall (even after clearly identifying as a member of the press), pepper sprayed directly in the eyes requiring a trip to the hospital, trapped in a cloud of tear gas, arrested for identifying an officer on camera, or beaten with a baton after filming a cop kneeling on a protester’s neck. Those examples (plus many more) all happened to Portland journalists—including Mercury reporters—in the past month.
On more than a few occasions, the Mercury has been forced to pull our reporters off the streets for their own safety—always because the police have seemingly lost all restraint, firing gas canisters and various munitions into crowds that included innocent bystanders, using physical force, and arresting reporters… again, just for doing our jobs.
I hope you’ll agree this is straight-up bullshit.
What’s further infuriating is the gaslighting tone the Portland Police Bureau has repeatedly used with the press, labeling the media as their “partners,” and threatening our ejection and arrest in order to protect us from “unsafe” protests that are allegedly riddled with “criminal activity.” (Note: The criminal activity they’re referring to is minor at best and perpetrated by a handful of people. And yet hundreds, including nearby residents, are on the receiving end of the police’s overwhelming, dangerous response.)
To be clear, the local press does not exist to serve as the police bureau's PR firm. Mercury reporters show up to these demonstrations to hold everyone accountable for their actions—cops and protesters alike—and to document what's become a global uprising against racist policing.
The attempts to discourage our reporting on police activity and the repeated physical abuse that police have inflicted on fellow journalists is an intimidation tactic designed to keep us and you away from the truth.
That's why the Mercury has joined with other Portland journalists and the ACLU to request a judge place a temporary restraining order on the Portland Police Bureau. If the order is approved, police would be unable to prohibit journalists from observing a protest and would be barred from using crowd control weapons against members of the media and legal observers.
We are doing this to protect our own reporters, but also to support other journalists (most of whom are independent and currently unaffiliated with a media company) and protesters who have been injured, intimidated, and denied their First Amendment rights by the Portland police over the past month.
To be honest, being a part of this legal action makes me very sad. I get exactly zero pleasure from the knowledge that our police departments have systematically been turned into war machines that are less concerned about protecting the public than upholding the nation’s systemic racial and economic disparities. But measures like these must be taken, because like I told my friend—I’m scared of the police.
I’m scared for myself, my employees, my fellow reporters, hundreds of peaceful protesters, but most of all, the people of color who have suffered decades of countless violence and indignities at the hands of a broken and inherently racist system. It’s no longer a question of asking the police to reform themselves. It will never happen—and you can largely thank the corrupt police unions for that. Police departments across the nation need to be taken completely apart and rebuilt into organizations that are held to much higher standards: to protect and serve, of course—but not just those who have money and power.
Speaking of money, where do you want yours to go? Personally, I’m tired of paying taxes for a service that generates fear. How do you feel about it?
Wm. Steven Humphrey
P.S. In order for the Mercury to continue holding the powerful accountable, we need your contributions. Our recent 17 straight days of covering protests was paid for by your donations. Simply put, the more money you give, the more eyes we can hire to put on the street. Please consider making a monthly contribution ($5, $10, $15 or more if you’re super-duper generous) to the Mercury, and we’ll keep standing up for you and those who really need it. OH! And as long as you’re in a generous mood, there are many independent journalists covering the protests nightly and could use your tips as well. For Venmo, CashApp, and Paypal options, follow the great Twitter accounts of @tuckwoodstock, @MrOlmos, @TheRealCoryElia, @Human42LM, @suzettesmith, @AndrewJank, @hungrybowtie, @DonovanFarley, @KohzKah, @PDocumentarians, and @econbrkfst.