By mid-July, taking a photo at the Portland protests became next to impossible unless you were resigned to taking a photo of 10 live-streamers crowding in for a good shot. It feels like every inch of the downtown federal courthouse is surveilled by people documenting the protests on social media, footage that police sift through to identify protesters to arrest later on.
Every moment, a hundred cameras are focused on the police. But for some cursed reason, I cannot find a video of the moment they tossed me down the steps of the federal courthouse. To be clear, it was only a few steps. But hey, hot take: a few is a few too many.
It didn’t matter to them that I was wearing a stupid bike helmet that had the word “PRESS” in a large font taped all over it; it didn’t matter that I was wearing the stupid badge that had an equally large “PRESS” on it. I am 5’4” and mindful not to make any sudden movements if a group of officers in full camouflage begins storming toward me. That didn’t matter either.
I faced them with my badge in one hand and my cellphone held high in the other, walking backward slowly and deliberately. I knew where the few stairs leading down to the sidewalk were. Don’t trip, I told myself. My thoughts cut off abruptly when camo overwhelmed my field of vision, and I went flying in the air. I landed hard on the ground at the bottom of the steps, cushioned slightly by my backpack, which is also marked with a stupid little sign that says “PRESS.”
The first thing I saw after falling was a woman breaking from a shield phalanx to pull me up to my feet. She looked frightened; when someone’s lying on the ground, it’s a prelude to an arrest. “I’m okay, I’m okay,” I repeated, as though I were in any position to convince anyone of anything.
I recorded the moment I was shoved. The camera’s vision whirls as my phone clatters to the ground. After I pick it up again and the image resolves once more, the camera shows the courthouse as I back away trying to regroup. My heart is pounding. I try not to breathe too heavily, at least not while tear gas canisters were still being shot into the crowd.
The next day, I looked for other videos of when the police pushed through, other videos taken by other protesters, hoping for another perspective on the moment they attacked me.
I had some luck. I found one where me and my stupid helmet bob into view for a few seconds. The camera looks away, perhaps so the filmer can turn and run, and then it flips back and I appear again for a second, still walking backward. I disappear from view when a fuzzy blur of protesters flees the oncoming wave of cops. When the image refocuses, the police have someone pinned to the ground — probably someone who had been standing near me — and are macing nearby protesters.
And as for me and my dumb bike helmet? I’m gone. There’s no sign of me. Despite the sea of cameras, that moment vanished into the ether, like a thousand other far more violent indignities wrought on other vulnerable bodies. All I really have left are my scrapes and bruises.
Reported by Sarah Jeong