By Kanishka Singh
(Reuters) – A U.S. judge granted a preliminary injunction on Thursday against federal officers, exempting journalists and legal observers from orders to disperse after the officers declare riots at Portland protests.
The 61-page order prohibited federal officers from seizing any “photographic equipment, audio- or video recording equipment, or press passes” from reporters and legal observers.
A lawyer from the U.S. Justice Department had argued that the press does not hold any special right when police declare an unlawful assembly or riot and order crowds to break up.
“If military and law enforcement personnel can engage around the world without attacking journalists, the federal defendants can respect plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights in Portland,” U.S. District Judge Michael Simon said in the order filed in the United States District Court for Oregon.
Protests against racism and police brutality have swept the United States since the death on May 25 of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, after a white police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
The protests, including those in Portland, have occasionally erupted in arson and violence, and federal officers sent into the northwestern city have repeatedly clashed with crowds targeting its federal courthouse.
Portland Police had declared a riot for a second successive night on Wednesday and said they had fired crowd control munitions and tear gas to break up a gathering of about 200 people who threw rocks, lit fires and vandalized a U.S. immigration agency building.
Thursday’s order came in a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Foundation of Oregon, which called it “a crucial victory” for civil liberties and press freedom.
Separately on Thursday, Portland Police issued a timeline of protests, showcasing they had declared riots 17 times between May 29 and Aug. 19.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)