‘I Mostly Feel Like My Voice Matters’: A Portland Journalist on Protests, Police Violence, and Enduring Trauma

Two protesters flee through tear gas after federal officers dispersed a crowd of about a thousand at the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse on July 21, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Karina Brown, a reporter for Courthouse News Service, has covered protests since Donald Trump was elected. In this personal essay, she describes “the hours of cat-and-mouse” between protesters and local and federal police on a recent Friday night in the streets in Portland, Oregon. Taunted and chased by cops, she was ultimately unhurt, but still shaking days later. The fear she felt reminded her of a night 26 years ago that she will never forget.

I’ve done a lot in my life to be okay with having that happen to me. I’ve had long bouts of feeling like everything I do is beyond pointless and I should just give up and never get out of bed ever again. Sometimes it feels like the destructive will of the world will never be overcome. But I battle that feeling with an aggressive pursuit of beauty and connection. And I mostly feel like my voice matters — that’s why I’m a journalist. So it was weird to feel that pointlessness so strongly again over the last few days. And I think the reason it came back was the reason it was there in the first place, decades ago. I’ve never been able to understand one thing: how could he have done that to me? To ME? As if I don’t matter at all. As if his whim, or compulsion was all that mattered and I was worthless.

The cops who taunted me as I ran from them were an echo of that trauma. Over the weekend, as I grew angrier, I kept circling back to one thought: don’t those fuckers know I’m sacred? That every one of us out there is?

* * *

I know. I’m supposed to be objective. I’m not supposed to say my personal feelings about what I’m covering in public — ideally in the minds of some, I wouldn’t even have feelings about what I cover. But to me, objectivity in journalism creates a disembodied voice. It fails to come from both everywhere and nowhere and instead encapsulates the perspective of the powerful rather than afflicting it. I come from somewhere. I come from right here.

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