A federal judge temporarily blocked federal law enforcement officers from arresting or using physical force against journalists and legal observers in Portland, Oregon, amid ongoing protests against police brutality and flaring tensions over the deployment of agents in the city.
U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said Thursday there were indications the media had been targeted by federal law enforcement sent to Portland and moved to protect those documenting the rise in tensions.
“When wrongdoing is underway, officials have great incentive to blindfold the eyes of the Fourth Estate,” Simon said in his ruling. “The free press is the guardian of the public interest, and the judiciary is the guardian of the press.”
The temporary restraining order, in place for 14 days, comes after a lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. It also bars federal officers from seizing photography, video or audio equipment, and journalists or legal observers cannot be blocked from filming a protest.
“This order is a victory for the rule of law,” Jann Carson, the interim executive director of the ACLU of Oregon, said in a statement. “Federal agents from Trump’s Departments of Homeland Security and Justice are terrorizing the community, threatening lives, and relentlessly attacking journalists and legal observers documenting protests. These are the actions of a tyrant, and they have no place anywhere in America.”
The group has filed a separate case against the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service and the city of Portland, alleging agents “brutally attacked volunteer medics with rubber bullets, tear-gas, pepper spray, batons, and flash bangs.” The case is currently pending before the courts.
Portland has faced nearly 60 days of protests calling for police reform and an end to systemic racism, which have only grown in recent days. The city has heaved with renewed anger after President Donald Trump sent federal law enforcement to the city to curb the demonstrations, which he said were organized by “anarchists” who “hate our country.”
“In Portland, we had to do it because they are anarchists,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday. “That is a level people haven’t seen. But they are anarchists. … So, we went in and we have been very, very strong.”
The deployments have prompted violent clashes with protesters as the agents used tear gas against the crowds, even after the judge banned the local police from using such tactics. There were also several reports of demonstrators being pulled into unmarked vans.
Gov. Kate Brown (D) has lambasted the agents’ tactics as a “blatant abuse of power” and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was left wheezing after inhaling tear gas deployed against a crowd of protesters on Wednesday.
“I’m not going to lie — it stings; it’s hard to breathe,” Wheeler told The New York Times. “And I can tell you with 100 percent honesty, I saw nothing which provoked this response.”