First published on The Big Smoke.
September 9, 2020
The white mayor, various other mostly white regional elected officials, the white editorial board of the “local” (actually owned by national media chain) newspaper, and numerous mostly white-owned businesses have called (repeatedly) for an end to the violence on the streets of Portland, Oregon.
They use passive language–“the violence needs to end”, “All of us must take a stance against violence”, “violence has no place in civic engagement and protest”, etc.–while barely giving lip service to Black Lives Matter (ignoring centuries of abuse and police violence and claiming to know what behavior is appropriate for Black people trying to stop the police from killing them) or the First Amendment right “to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
But, nowhere, in any of their documents, editorials, statements, or letters, do any of them acknowledge that, night after night, the primary perpetrators of violence–the people breaking bones, and cracking open peoples’ heads that results in concussions and traumatic brain injuries, and causing other injuries that have put people in the hospital–wear the uniforms and badges of the Portland Police Bureau.
White supremacist groups have come to Portland on several occasions, shooting paint ball guns and mace, threatening people with loaded pistols, and beating people with baseball bats. The police don’t arrest the Fascist group members for felonious assaults committed and recorded on video. Yet night after night, police arrest Black Lives Matter protesters for disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and the ever-popular interfering with a police officer (a nebulous, undefined law that has been interpreted by police as anything from insulting a police officer, which is not actually a crime, to not running away fast enough).
Night after night, any violence that isn’t committed by right-wing “patriots” is inflicted by the Portland Police.
After 59 people were arrested Saturday night/Sunday morning, and after being prevented by the police from reaching their protest goal the evening before, on Tuesday, September 8th, protesters implemented a new tactic. Whenever the police tried to block them, they went somewhere else. They flowed through the streets of downtown Portland, shifting direction and destination.
Police told protesters to stay off the train tracks, while they themselves stood on the train tracks. They told protesters not to block the street, while they themselves blocked the street. Police threatened protesters, via Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), with “arrest, citation, or crowd control agents, including, but not limited to, tear gas and/or impact weapons.”
But there is no evidence any protesters threw water bottles, plastic pigs, or fruit at police. No one affiliated with the protest set dumpster fires, which have become a protest mascot and have been used as barriers to stop drivers from attempting to run down pedestrians with their vehicles. Presumably aware of the high fire danger, no one even started a small trash fire. No new graffiti was added to government buildings.
Protesters listened to speeches and rap songs excoriating the police and the mayor, chanted, and danced in front of City Hall. Even Mayor Edward Tevis “Tear Gas Ted” Wheeler, who is also the police commissioner, couldn’t have called it anything but a peaceful protest. The police couldn’t justify an “unlawful assembly” or “riot” declaration for which, in the past, they’ve only needed a minuscule excuse, such as a balloon being tossed in their direction.
So, instead, police declared the streets the protesters occupied, and an additional dozen blocks of downtown Portland, closed to pedestrians. And then, as protesters cleared the area, expanded the closure to more than forty blocks.
Police chased and attacked protesters, throwing them violently to the ground; pushed them off the sidewalk they had ordered them to stay on; arrested whoever they could catch including one woman who was legally crossing the street in a crosswalk, with the light, outside the “closed” zone; including one of the Moms for Black Lives who, standing on the sidewalk as instructed, yelled at them for attacking peaceful protesters but refusing to arrest violent white supremacists; and including at least one member of the press despite a restraining order forbidding them from doing so.
For each arrest, four or five police officers tackled and restrained individuals, some weighing less than 100 pounds, who were not resisting in any way and several additional police officers attempted to prevent the press from photographing the violence while repeatedly announcing via LRAD that the arrests were “lawful”. (One normally need not repeatedly state something is “lawful” if it actually is.) Restraining and arresting a person did not stop police from inflicting further damage, including holding one man down and pulling his head up by his hair to spray mace in his face.
The nightly police-written summary, released at 2:51 a.m. Pacific time, that details arrests and invents reasons for them, as usual, contained misleading statements and outright lies.
“A mass gathering blocked streets and Trimet Max tracks in downtown Portland for several hours Tuesday evening.” That statement is only accurate if you identify the “mass gathering” as the Portland Police, because even when protesters moved away from areas as instructed, the police continued to block the streets and the train tracks. It should be noted that on numerous occasions when protesters take to the streets in Portland, they make an effort to allow Max trains, buses, and delivery trucks to pass through unimpeded.
“Targeted arrests were made” is only accurate if you consider “targeted” as anyone they could catch.
“As the group marched in the streets, group members were seen wearing helmets, gas masks, and carrying shields.” So now, apparently, the police interpret efforts made by protesters to protect themselves against further police brutality as intention to commit a criminal act.
As Mac Smiff, Portland activist and Editor-in-Chief of We Out Here, has stated: “We came out here dressed in T-shirts and twirling Hula-Hoops and stuff, and they started gassing us, so we came back with respirators, and they started shooting us, so we came back with vests, and they started aiming for the head, so we started wearing helmets, and now they call us terrorists.”
Eleven arrests were made on charges of interfering with a peace officer, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest (under Oregon law people have the right to defend themselves against unreasonable use of force). One person had an additional charge of attempt escape tacked on.
None of those arrested were charged with vandalism (despite claims in the summary that vandalizing property had occurred), assault, or even littering (despite claims in the summary that projectiles had been thrown). The county District Attorney, Mike Schmidt, has specifically said his office will not press charges for interference with a police officer or disorderly conduct and Oregon courts have ruled that resisting arrest is not a valid charge in and of itself.
The Portland Police have made it very clear that they will not tolerate any form of protest, peaceful or otherwise, that calls out their racism, their violence, and their brutality, nor any calls for eliminating their funding. So, exactly what do officials and media mean when they declare “we ask those who may want to demonstrate to do so peacefully and safely” or “This is not the culture of peaceful protest that Portland knows”?