First published on The Big Smoke.
August 29, 2020
Much has been written and broadcast about “lawless” protesters in Portland, Oregon—until August 23, 2020 considered “ground zero” for the Black Lives Matter uprising against racist policing—and other U.S. cities. But the protesters have not committed many of the transgressions of which they have been accused. A few of them have, at worst, engaged in some vandalism, but most have never broken a single law. Many have even gone so far as to follow unlawful and often conflicting orders from the police rather than risk doing something not legal.
Almost all of the protest-related violence not committed by police has been perpetrated by right-wing, white supremacist hate groups who have a history of coming to Portland to attack anti-fascist, BLM, and anti-Trump protesters.
Although protesters have thrown pig feed, squeaky pigs, dildos, plastic water bottles, apples, eggs, vegan milkshakes, balloons filled with paint, and the ever traditional rotten tomatoes, these have been aimed at police wearing helmets, face shields, and full body armor (and rarely actually hit them unless the items bounce off the pavement). In response, police have shot protesters with hard plastic/rubber bullets, pepper balls, flash bang impact grenades, and canisters of mace, smoke, and tear gas, many aimed directly at protesters’ heads.
The Portland Police are guilty of numerous crimes—many of extreme violence—for which they have not been arrested, charged, and/or prosecuted. Like police across the United States, they constantly and consistently act as if the law does not apply to them—from the smallest infraction to flagrant disregard for human life and safety. Many of their actions would be considered war crimes if they were used against anyone outside the United States.
“PPB is required to adhere to all laws” according to the Portland Police Bureau’s Directives Manual. But videos collected nightly by independent journalists document state and federal laws, police bureau policies, and city codes that Portland Police constantly violate, from traffic violations to assault and battery.
The list below is by no means complete, but these are all offenses that these same police officers would ticket and/or arrest any civilian who committed them (and possibly murder someone who is BIPOC). Nor does this list include documented incidents of crimes such as domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, and murder of which police in every jurisdiction have been found guilty.
Police have tried to prevent the public from learning about the magnitude of the crimes they have committed on the streets of Portland just during the past 90+ days by specifically targeting and attacking anyone who attempts to film their illegal activities or collect evidence (including shooting directly at numerous reporters and legal observers). Despite court orders and laws forbidding them from doing so, police constantly threaten, push, and attack reporters, medics, and legal observers and have arrested a number of them on bogus charges. Police also cover up their names and badge numbers to prevent the media and protesters from filing complaints against them.
Although there is no empirical evidence that police contribute to public safety, there is ample data they have a detrimental impact in that regard. Police routinely abuse, injure, rape, and murder Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color and rarely face significant consequences for their actions. They belong to well-financed, influential organizations whose primary purpose is to protect police officers from accountability and fight and/or sabotage any attempts at police reform.
Police budgets bleed municipalities dry—especially as those cities struggle to meet their residents’ needs during a pandemic—sometimes consuming more than all other city expenditures combined. Abolishing police would alleviate budget crunches; provide funds for social services, education, health care, and infrastructure; improve public safety and reduce crime rates; and go a long way towards providing social justice for communities of color.
Some of the offenses recorded and available on video from the streets of Portland include (but are not limited to):
- Violently beating people (not all of their victims are protesters) with fists and batons; yanking them out of their vehicles; throwing them to the ground, off their bicycles, against curbs, and into walls; shooting them in the head with so-called “less-than-lethal” projectiles; spraying chemical weapons in their faces; and deliberately pulling those not wearing respirators into clouds of tear gas which has resulted in serious contusions, cuts, burns, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, and other (sometimes permanent) damage requiring hospitalization.
- Violating court-ordered restraints against preventing journalists and legal observers from doing their jobs by harassing, arresting, gassing/macing, beating, and shooting them.
- Violating protesters’ First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights.
- Falsely arresting and unlawfully detaining protesters on charges that district attorneys have informed police do not constitute illegal actions and will not be prosecuted, as well as violently detaining people and dumping them overnight, or longer, into a jail that refuses to implement sanitation procedures necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for charges that at most should warrant a citation.
- Polluting homes, businesses, vehicles, and houseless encampments with CS gas that permeates fabrics, upholstery, drywall, and other materials.
- Vandalizing vehicles—including repeatedly breaking car windows and slashing tires (just one victim of repeated police attacks on their vehicle reports replacing 30 tires on theirs and others’ vehicles over a three-month period)—owned by members of the media, people who support protesters by providing food and medical supplies, and uninvolved bystanders.
- Destroying property including flipping medics’ wagons to damage their supplies, driving over carts of first-aid supplies and snacks, and demolishing private property unrelated to the protests (such as smashing barricades set up by restaurants to block off streets as outdoor dining space during the phased pandemic re-opening and the bicycle of a teen who happened to be riding by a protest).
- Stealing food, medical supplies, shoes, clothing, backpacks, musical instruments, bicycles, sound equipment, umbrellas, shields used to protect against batons and munitions, and cell phones from protesters, those supporting them but not actually participating in the protests, and people in the neighborhood who are not affiliated with the protests in any way.
- Photographing and video recording protesters, reporters, and legal observers in violation of state law.
- Violating various police bureau policies and city codes, including:
- Retaliating against community members who are exercising their legal rights by targeting them for beatings and arrest (including Demetria Hester whose report of a hate crime on a Max train by Jeremy Christian the day before he murdered two men, hospitalized a third, and traumatized two teenage girls was ignored by police).
- Assisting “criminals in avoiding arrest and punishment” by working with members of Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, and other Nazi and white supremacist groups to help them avoid arrest and prosecution when they commit violence (including beating, stabbing, and throwing explosives at) against protesters.
- Relying on force despite requirements to do so “as little as possible and display skills/ability to resolve conflict constitutionally.”
- Declaring an emergency and closing off dozens of blocks of city streets to protesters, residents, and business owners even though the requirements for such an emergency only include events as serious as “an escaped prisoner, a natural disaster, a fire, an explosion,” etc.
- Police have also used these “emergencies” as attempts to force press and legal observers to leave the scene although that same code states they must provide for “reasonable access” to any areas closed off “to members of the media for the purpose of news gathering and reporting.”
- Refusing to “provide ID upon request.”
- Lying about city codes (and it should be noted they are required to “have competency in city ordinance”).
- Claiming authority they do not have, such as repeatedly declaring protest gatherings an “unlawful assembly” but refusing to say who is declaring assemblies unlawful and for what reason. Often during these “declarations” there is no illegal activity of any kind in progress and it’s only too obvious to objective observers that “unlawful assembly” is being used as an excuse to attack protesters. (It should be noted that once the State of Oregon passed legislation forbidding the use of tear gas except in the case of a riot, police immediately started declaring riots whenever they wanted to use tear gas.)
- Producing false evidence including posting photos on social media of items allegedly confiscated or found during protests (including items obviously planted by far right provocateurs and material police have been observed collecting for those photos from area dumpsters) and showing injuries that allegedly occurred as a result of weapons that were not used (for example a scrape that supposedly resulted from a “mortar round”).
- Lying (although cops are allowed to lie under specific circumstances, “no officer may lie to justify criminal charge”) including claiming that protesters: are rioting anytime they stand on the sidewalk outside their association clubhouse; have thrown objects such as glass bottles, bricks, and rocks at the police (most “reports” of items thrown at police are exaggerated or completely fabricated and to prove that point, one night when police claimed that a glass bottle had been thrown at them, several reporters confirmed that the only “projectiles” tossed at police were an inflatable pig and some apples from a nearby tree); have tried to burn down various glass and brick buildings when small trash fires are set near the door; have “trapped” people in buildings when one of several exits is blocked to protect protesters from surprise attacks by police; etc.
- Violating the governor’s mask orders to protect against transmission of the coronavirus that has killed more than 400 Oregonians.
- Spitting on the sidewalk (during a plague, made more egregious by the above and by the fact that there have been reports of Portland Police Bureau employees who are infected, but accurate information as to how many and what jobs they hold is unavailable).
- Going the wrong way on a one-way street (with no lights or siren indicating an emergency).