- [Announcer] These are crowd control agents.
... Not limited to tear gas and or impact weapons.
(dramatic music) In 2020, the killing of George Floyd caused an estimated 15 to 26 million people to take to the streets, making it the largest protest in American history.
- And this American moment has made it difficult for us to separate lies from truth.
So we wanted to see how photographers can help give us clarity in just a fraction of a second.
(dramatic music) - Photos can change a conversation, evoke emotion, just through color and composition and lighting.
Photojournalists and photo editors, we are the arbiters of truth, especially in this day and age of misinformation, disinformation.
We are trained to be able to confirm what we're seeing is actual.
- Over the decades, iconic photos have moved Americans to take action, and these past few years have been no exception.
- John Moore's image of the little girl with her mother at the border, that really changed the national conversation.
The George Floyd video was initially taken by a young woman who was 17 years old.
And I think social media has allowed for the democratization of photography in a way.
- It's more important than ever, telling the truth of what's happening on this ground, no matter how uncomfortable it is for people.
- In late May 2020, staff photojournalist Beth Nakamura began covering the protests in Portland for the state's largest newspaper, "The Oregonian."
- Here's one thing people say.
"Journalism: it's a tough job with insane pressure and pretty crappy pay.
On the other hand, everybody hates you," which is kinda true.
I never imagined that, a hundred days later, I would still be out on the street documenting this ever-changing ongoing protest.
- [Dr. Bainbridge] Almost all of the images you'll see in this episode have been shot by Beth and the staff of "The Oregonian."
- [Crowd] Justice!
- For me, on the ground, I've got a very different story than the rest of the country does.
It was immediately clear we were, in fact, in the midst of an uprising.
It was, I have to say, close up, really touching.
- I've never seen this much love from people I don't know!
(crowd cheering) - [Dr. Mattu] But there were instances of looting and arson, and the national news media began to intensely follow the story as well.
- [News Anchor] Chaos overnight in Portland, Oregon.
- Officials here are worried about another night of violence.
- [Beth] There was a perception around the country that the city's falling apart, and it's entirely untrue.
- [Dr. Mattu] For months, "The Oregonian" team has documented each night of the conflict from the local perspective.
- People don't really understand Portland.
Portland is kind of its own little nation.
♪ Burn it down, burn ♪ it down, burn it down ♪ I've lived here long enough that I feel like I'm a fairly decent translator of this culture.
- [Crowd] Black lives matter!
- Photographers who are covering their own community will understand the nuances that, perhaps, the rest of us may not get.
- These protests play out in one or two city blocks, sometimes, maybe, three or four.
- This is the Portland Protest Bureau!
- You are unlawfully taking the streets from the people!
- However, in those small concentrated areas, yes, it can sometimes look and feel like I'm in a war zone.
(loud laughter) - [Officer] This is the Portland Police Bureau.
You must leave the area.
(people yelling) - [Dr. Bainbridge] By late June, the protests seemed to be winding down.
- You know, positive change is gonna come from the people that we hire.
- Serious question: pineapple on pizza, or no?
- Pineapple always on pizza.
(cheers and booing) - Politicians responded pretty quickly.
From there, it started to wane, as protesting will.
- [Dr. Bainbridge] But on July 1st, President Trump made the decision to send in federal forces, and the city was reignited.
- [Officer] Disperse from the area; officers are taking lawful action.
- The arrival of the Feds was a whole different level of aggression coming from law enforcement.
Portland was furious, and we went from a couple of hundred hardcore protestors to eight-plus thousand people back in the street.
- [Crowd] I don't see no riot here!
Take off your riot gear!
I don't see no riot here!
Take off your riot gear!
- We demand that the federal government stop occupying our city!
- [Crowd] Feds go home; Feds go home!
- [Dr. Mattu] Over the course of the next two months, the city declared riots on at least 18 nights.
- [Officer] This is the Portland Police Bureau.
This has been declared a riot.
All persons must immediately disperse to the south and to the east.
(camera shutter clicking) - I'm here as a parent.
I can't take this anymore.
This has to stop!
- [Dr. Bainbridge] A group called "The Wall of Moms" began to gain national headlines.
- [News Anchor] The Wall of Moms, these women in yellow shirts.
- [Female Voice] They've become famous, really, since last night.
- You know, that was kind of remarkable.
That said, it really, for us, wasn't the headline of the protest.
(woman yelling) The headline has always, for us, been this movement of people rising up against police brutality.
- [Woman] Get off his neck!
- That is a child!
That is a child!
I've never lived through anything like this, you know, on American soil, certainly.
- [Resident] This is a neighborhood; you don't have to use tear gas.
We feel safe enough.
You don't have to use the tear gas.
(crowds shouting) - You know, I could have been in Iraq, but I was in Portland.
- [Dr. Mattu] The city felt unsafe and on edge.
- I've gotta get out of here, man.
This is... - [Dr. Mattu] Especially for the journalists covering the front lines.
- You know, the assaults on journalists are routine now.
- Are you press?
You must identify yourself as press.
The TRO states you must.
All right, you're going to jail.
- It's night 68 here for the protest.
I got hit by a baton by Portland police.
You know, I was showing my ID saying, "Press, press."
They were, you know, were forcing us out of the park where we were.
- [Officer] Let's go folks, let's go!
Get in front of me.
- And so I turned around.
- [Officer] You can go faster!
Move, move, move!
(crowds shouting) - [Beth] Why?
Are you alright?
- [Police officer] Behind that line, back up!
All press behind this line!
- [Dr. Bainbridge] In addition to the risk of physical harm, local journalism itself is in danger right now.
- In the pandemic, at least 50 newspapers have closed.
We're just a few boots on the ground here.
You know, it hangs by these threads.
- [Jo Ann Hardesty] We are setting the standard for the rest of the country!
If we fail, democracy is doomed!
- You know, if we can't provide citizens with the basic information, we have undermined our ability to keep democracy going and to keep democracy thriving.
- For the first time in a while, like...
I'm gonna need to take a couple days off.
- [Dr. Mattu] For Beth, after more than 140 days of protests, it's taken a toll.
- I never in my career sought out, you know, to be the, you know, the globe trotting conflict photographer in my own city.
The conflict came to me; the conflict knocked on my door, and I answered the door.
- [Dr. Bainbridge] But she remains committed to telling the story of her home city.
- I'm not gonna back down here.
You know, sorry, folks.
I don't think I could ever walk away from what I do.
I think I was born to do this.
- Over time, our memories do change, but these photos will preserve this moment forever.
- Even as our own understanding of history is evolving and can expand.
- These are the things that our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will ask us about.
And these are the images that they will see.
I'm just bringing all I have to it and hoping that the truth will prevail, that's it.
- PBS American Portrait is a platform where -- - People can go to in order to share their experiences.
- To join in -- - Go to PBS - Dot-org - Slash-american portrait.
(bright music) (silence)