I have received well-wishes and worried queries from friends around the country as well as from Oregonians outside of Portland. Watching the news, they are concerned about my safety and well-being.
First, thank you for your interest and concern. I am fine.
Secondly, downtown Portland is 9 miles (14 km) away, and since I am still sheltering in place, I haven’t been downtown in weeks.
Thirdly, it is my opinion that in general, the breathless reportage covering the situation in downtown Portland is at best, exaggerated, bombastic, and lacking nuance, at worst, inflammatory and victim blaming.
Have I attended or observed any protests? No. Have I witnessed first-hand the alleged destruction of our beloved city? No. But my brother lives close to downtown and has been regularly reviewing and photographing the area. I also have several friends who live close to and have attended protests, some as protesters, some offering medical aid.
I am going to borrow heavily from my brother’s accounts and photographs. If you are interested in getting more current updates, you may follow his FB wall by clicking here.
This is the first of two very long posts on the topic (click here for Part II). This post will be in three parts:
I. What You Can Do
II. Exaggerated Claims
III. What To Be Concerned About
I hope this will help those who are interested and concerned to have a better picture about what is happening here in Portland, how it should concern you, and what you can do about it.
I. WHAT YOU CAN DO
a. Get Educated and Ask Difficult Questions
When presented with explanations and narratives, ask for evidence and data. As we shall see, when pressed for actual data on violence and property destruction, the Portland Policy Bureau’s (PPB’s) case falls like a stack of cards.
Sadly, it is my impression that the mass media are not taking the time to really investigate the situation, question the official explanations, and provide thoughtful analysis and historical context.
Rumble Podcast episodes 101 – 104…
I understand many people are not fans of Michael Moore. I, too, sometimes find his films a bit ham-fisted. But I find his recent podcasts focused on the Portland protests (episodes 101, 102, 103, and 104 as of this writing) to be excellent.
b. Trust the locals
I have seen too many times where out-of-town and out-of-state friends are so certain about the situation here that they try to explain it back to local folks. They dismiss our views and insist the violence and destruction are real and justify the Draconian response from local and federal law enforcement.
Please do not dismiss the locals’ views, and if you see others doing so, please ask them, “why do you believe this?” and request evidence (beyond the words of some talking head) be provided.
Many people, myself included, are unemployed and are seeing their unemployment benefits (assuming they are even receiving any) about to run out. If you can, please consider donating to any of a number of worthy causes in support of civil liberties and the protesters.
Defense Fund PDX
Defense Fund PDX is a jail support group whose work involves prioritizing the release of BIPOC and queer people from jail, as well as supporting those without homes. You can Venmo donations @defensefundpdx.
Riot Ribs provides free food for those attending direct actions in Portland.
The ACLU brought suit against federal officers and have won a temporary restraining order against targeting of journalists (see below). It is mind-boggling that we even need court intervention to protect our journalists, but the ACLU is doing it. Support the ACLU.
Portland General Defense Committee
GoFundMe donations are used “to pay for bail, legal fees and fines, lawyers, discovery, investigations, personal material support and any other financial needs that arise during the legal process.” You can follow them on Twitter.
Rumble Legal Defense Fund for American Dissidents
100% will go to organizations and individuals (no admin fees).
GoFundMe: Rumble Legal Defense Fund For American Dissidents
d. Register to vote, vote, and support all efforts to increase voter turnout and accessibility
Be sure you are registered to vote
In most cases you can check your voter registration online. Do it! And double-check your voter registration early enough to resolve any issues, and often to make sure you have not been removed from the rolls for some reason.
Do I really need to say it?
Consider requesting an absentee ballot to avoid the chaos, the waiting, and the pandemic risk in this next election.
Support and defend Vote-By-Mail
We in Oregon have enjoyed vote-by-mail for over 20 years. We know it is safe, secure, convenient, saves money, and most importantly increases voter turnout. A 2003 survey shows vote-by-mail enjoys high favorability among 85% of Democrats and 75% Republicans here in Oregon. 30% of respondents reported they vote more often since vote-by-mail was enacted.
II. EXAGGERATED CLAIMS
First, I believe most national news media have painted a picture of widespread violence and destruction of property, justifying the heavy-handed tactics of Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and the recent arrival of federal officers. Many of my friends near and far are under the impression that downtown Portland has become a war zone with widespread looting, fires, and destruction of property. Some media outlets regularly refer to “riots” in downtown Portland.
Certainly, images like this fuel that narrative:
To the contrary, numerous reports and photographs from individuals actually in the area, like those from my brother, indicate that the “hot” spot is really limited to a two-block strip of SW 3rd Avenue. One block is in front of the Justice Center and the other in front of the Federal Courthouse.
Even then, visiting that 2-block strip during the day reveals little more than sprayed graffiti and messages in chalk.
Here is a Facebook post from last week showing a series of images of bucolic normalcy in various areas of our city. This is a common friend of a few of my musician friends and colleagues.
So please take any assertions comparing Portland to some 3rd world and/or war-torn country for what they are, blatant and irresponsible claims.
Furthermore, what is the nature of the damage? One official declaration by Sergeant Strohmeyer of PPB, though at first glance impressive in length, upon closer inspection reveals the vast majority of individual items to be simply broken windows and/or tagging and graffiti:
There are a few property damage items (stolen bike, broken car windows, etc.), and one single item listing “fire” with no details of size or amount of destruction.
I personally find it a hard sell that this list of crime justifies the PPB showing up in riot gear and firing tear gas, flashbangs, and pepper balls, much less the need for the appearance of federal officers.
III. WHAT TO BE CONCERNED ABOUT
In my opinion, the overwhelming, disproportionate, and heavy-handed tactics of the Portland Police, the extrajudicial actions of the federal officers brought uninvited to our city, the abrogation of our First and Fourth Amendment Rights, the make up of the federal officers, and much more, should be the focus of journalists and of greater concern to our friends and family near and far.
Overwhelming, disproportionate, and heavy-handed tactics
Exhibit 1: Navy Veteran, Chris David
Perhaps you heard the story about a Navy Veteran, Chris David, who was severely beaten with batons. His crime? Asking federal officers why they were there.
In this local news report and video, you can see him standing still, posing no threat, hands at his side, making no movements other than to shield his own face as he is beaten and sprayed in the eyes. This occurred Saturday, July 18th.
David told CNN this was his first protest, and he was enraged to see federal officers on the scene. “I was going to ask why they weren’t living up to their oath of office, the Constitution,” David explained. ” All I wanted to do was ask them why?”
Exhibit 2: Portland Fire & Rescue Ban Law Enforcement from using fire stations
Traditionally there is a strong bond between fire and police departments. In Portland, that bond is being severed over the fire department’s perceptions that city police are collaborating with the federal officers, and that the federal officers comprise an “occupying force.”
On Sunday, July 19th, Portland Fire Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty announced that Portland Fire and Rescue would bar all law enforcement from using fire stations as staging areas for “any tactical operations” until further notice.
Fire and Police departments sometimes overlap when responding to large protests, but Fire Chief Boone wrote they wish “to ensure that there is no confusion in regards to our role in providing safety to the residents of the city of Portland.”
The fire bureau emphasized that both the city police and the feds “were not, and will not ever” be allowed to use fire stations for their operations.
Exhibit 3a: Wall of Mom member shot in the face with a pepper ball
The sister to a musician friend who attended my high school with my older brother joined the Wall of Moms providing a human shield between law enforcement and the protesters. She was shot in the face with a pepper ball. These are her own words:
Last night I was hit in the face with a pepper ball (a lil pellet of tear gas shot from a gun thingy) about 1am while protesting peacefully and nonviolently in front of the Justice Center. It was the first thing fired last night from inside the fence, so a bit of a surprise, followed by much else. Fortunately with my protective getup the powder exploded mostly on my helmet, goggles, respirator, sign, and clothes; only the white sliver of powder (pic) made contact with my skin between helmet and goggles. Um, it stung.
ways with eyes squeezed shut. We’d stepped back a bit after I got hit and my getup was effective enough that I was affected by the gas scarcely at all until returning escorted to my car blocks away and taking off my mask. Whether that stirred up the teargas still on my person, was lingering in the air from the Justice Center, or was (biggest contributor) just because I was now breathing directly, IDK. All I know is all of this happened in a large nonviolent group mainly just standing there and chanting.
In reading, it sounds as though they can aim the pepper balls very well and are forbidden from aiming at faces. Why they chose me and my face, a few loose rows back from the fence and in Mom Yellow, I do not know. What I do know is that their attack on protestors [sic] was a massive overreaction as I’d heard and observed downtown on earlier night from a distance.
That said: I will go back. This was nothing. Black persons and other POC experience perpetual racism, brutality, and murder, and that’s why massive numbers of white people must step up in support and protest. I urge everyone who feels able, to go downtown. Protest the killings of Black people. Protest systemic racism. Protest the unnecessary and contrived presence of the feds in our city. The numbers willing to stand up speak volumes and we must not accept this latest step toward authoritarian/fascist control of our country.
I’m not posting my protest actions these days, having done beyond enough such posting over the years, and our feeds are already awash in similar photos/footage from others. This exception is to confirm that Yes, they are firing on 100% peaceful and nonviolent protestors [sic] who are posing no risk to the federal building. I do believe they are escalating to provide 45 his photo ops claiming we are “rioting” in our liberal cities. With my own (still safe) eyes: Nothing could be further from the truth.
Exhibit 4: Wall of Mom attorney arrested tells harrowing story
Jennifer Kristiansen, a 37 y.o. attorney from Beaverton attended the July 22 protest as part of the Wall of Moms. Briefly, she alleges:
- She was never informed of her rights
- Her arresting officers never identified where they worked
- Was restrained across her chest (“that must be why my sternum hurts today”)
- Was pushed against the courthouse wall
- Was touched on her breast and butt (unclear whether intentional or not – she was terrified)
- Her cell only had a small metal bench and she was refused a blanket
- Never was allowed to call an attorney
- Was released 4pm the following day
- Did not get her phone, ID, or shoe laces back
She said her experience being arrested by federal officers was bad, but said immigrants and Black people have faced the same abuses for much longer.
“Not enough people paid attention,” she said about the Department of Homeland Security’s treatment of immigrants. “If it takes a tiny little rainbow-wearing white lady to bring attention to this problem that has been a problem for the immigrant community for a while, so be it.”
Exhibit 5: Wall of Moms attendee describes the fireworks, protests, and disagreements among protesters
My older brother’s high school classmate drove 225 miles to Portland to observe and participate in the Wall of Moms.
She has experienced war-torn regions, witnessing Northern Ireland and the use of non-lethal and lethal weapons, thrown, Molotov cocktails, and the carnage in the streets.
What she witnessed in Portland, though concerning, was nothing in comparison. These are her words from Tuesday, July 21st:
I was there Tuesday night until after midnight and Wednesday into the wee hours of Thursday.
I went to Portland to join the Wall of Moms. It wasn’t my first rodeo, though. I spent the summer of 1996 in Derry and Belfast, Northern Ireland, as an observer for a social justice group.
As an observer, I was chased by Saracen tanks, nearly hit in the head by a plastic bullet (head shots with plastic bullets can and have been, lethal), and corralled by a British military helicopter (although it might have belonged to the Royal Ulster Constabulary) and driven into dead end streets. There were Molotov cocktails all over the place and by dawn, the streets were glittering with a sea of glass shards.
In Portland, there were white men lighting cardboard boxes on fire and tossing them over the fence that was erected on Wednesday. And they were throwing garbage over the fence as well. But I never saw a single Molotov cocktail on Tuesday or Wednesday and until I left around 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
Someone was also aiming fireworks at the Hatfield building on Wednesday into Thursday. It took me a while to find the people responsible for that. It was quite a crowd pleaser, as in: “You’re going to gas us, shoot at us with plastic bullets, beat us, set off flash bangs, well, we’re getting our own back at you.”
What I found was that there were young BLM guys in a beat-up van who were the source of the kind of stuff you hear for days during the 4th of July festivities. Pyrotechnics that included mortars. Aimed at a building.
One young man lit one that nearly hit an adult BLM protestor and the older guys confronted him. One adult said, “That’s my nephew, I’ll take care of it!” And the young guy was taken out of the area. I saw him some hours later. A little smarter than he was before.
The BLM protesters begged the “skinny white boys” to stop throwing burning material over the fence, but they were ignored. Two different groups with a different agenda. I was so concerned at one point because I thought the trees in front of the building were going to go up in flames, but it stopped just short of that.
No one in the protest movement approved of these actions but they were provocations, not a direct attack on any human being — including the federal goons who gassed us, deafened us with flash bangs, and shot at us with rubber bullets.
I have some experience with rubber bullets as well in Derry and Belfast. They can be lethal if a person is hit in the head. Though the UN mandates that their use be confined to the waist down, that’s not how it plays out in reality.
When I was covering the Apprentice Boys weekend (Protestant annual celebrations for some shit that happened in 1689) I had a plastic bullet come so close to my head, it burned my hair. 17 people died from rubber/plastic bullets during “The Troubles.”
I’m reading other people’s FB profiles and responses, and I’m getting pissed off. No one ever got what they needed from the ruling class by asking politely on their knees.
My question to you is: Is there ever a time when a people that fight for their human rights would meet with your approval? Because we’ve seen this in Northern Ireland, Tienanmen Square, Johannesburg, Prague, East Berlin, Poland, and in our own country, starting with the Boston Tea Party, and right on through every battle for equality and freedom from a repressive regime.
The battle women waged to be able to vote. The battle waged by labor for decent wages and a weekend. The battles that were waged throughout the south that culminated in the Civil Rights Act. The right to marry the person you love without govt interference. The right to claim who you are, your gender, your sexual orientation.
None of these rights were handed down by a benevolent government. They were forced from a clenched fist.Teri Melton
This account describes the disagreement and confusion among various factions of the protesters. That being said, I don’t think it gives credence to those who support the tear gassing, shooting of rubber bullets, and mass detainments being perpetrated by city police and federal officers.
Exhibit 6: More groups joining the protests
Joining the Wall of Moms, who are dressing themselves in yellow, there several new groups adding their voices and bodies to the protests.
a. Dads There is now the wall of dads, aka the PDX Dad Pod, now showing up to protests with leaf blowers, which they use to blow tear gas away from protesters and back at law enforcement. The dads are dressing in orange.
One 44 y.o. dad and attorney, Zack Duffly, attended his first protest on Monday, July 20th. He was taken to the ground, had his glasses broken, and was arrested. Duffly believes he was targeted because he brought a leaf blower.
He was held for 14 hours, often crowded with other detainees who didn’t have masks, and was finally arraigned at 3:30 p.m. the next day and charged with federal disorderly conduct.
Days later, he can still feel and smell the tear gas.
Former US service members are joining the moms and dads to form human shields between protesters and law enforcement.
The self-proclaimed “Raging Grannies” made up of women 50 years or older have joined the protests.
d. Healthcare Workers, Teachers, and Union Members
Teachers wearing red, healthcare workers wearing scrubs, and union members in their union gear are now joining the protests.
With such a variety of voices joining in chorus against the city police and the federal officers, please do not accept official accounts from the police or DHS about the justification for tremendous use of force.
Exhibit 7: Judge blocks federal officers from targeting journalists
It shouldn’t take a court order to protect journalists from doing their job, but that’s what it has come to in Portland. A case brought by the ACLU has resulted in a restraining order against the DHS and U.S. Marshals Service.
No longer may federal officers target journalists. U.S. District Judge Michael Simon reviewed evidence that law enforcement had specifically targeted journalists and legal observers who were clearly identified and not violating the law. This decision came on Friday, July 24th.
Portland protests began after the horrifying murder of George Floyd and persisted, on a daily basis, for nearly two months. They were not without incident, but for the most part were peaceful. Some say they were dying down – then the federal officials arrived.
It is demonstrably evident that their arrival has ratcheted up tensions. But is this surprising? Officers are in camouflage gear, gas masks, wielding batons, and shooting tear gas, pepper balls, and flashbang grenades. Using unmarked rental vans they whisk unarmed peaceful protesters off the streets, don’t read them their rights, will not identify which agency they represent, have no visible name tags or officer badge numbers, and hold people for hours without charge.
We may speculate and debate what the motivation and political end game of these tactics may be. But I cannot be convinced the federal presence, uninvited, likely untrained for this kind of work, and unquestionably provocative in their tactics, are in any way justified, effective, or constitutional.
Please pay attention, question and challenge what your media and law enforcement is telling you, and get engaged.
Please read my second post, which tells the story of a personal friend, acting as a street medic, who was shot in the back and injured by Portland Police.