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What Do Portland Protesters Want, and How Have the Police Responded?

2020-07-25 21:25:19

When a video showing George Floyd’s death in police custody spread across social media, cities and towns nationwide soon erupted in protests against systemic racism and police brutality. But while protests in many places subsided after a few weeks, Portland, Ore., has been holding demonstrations every night since May 29.

The arrival of federal forces in the city this month — and concerns they were exceeding their authority and violating protesters’ rights — drew the ire of local officials and reinvigorated nightly demonstrations. With renewed force, marchers have spray-painted the walls of the U.S. District Court building, demanding that federal agents go home. Groups of mothers have banded together, locking arms and chanting: “Feds stay clear. Moms are here.”

Early in the protests, protesters broke into the Multnomah County Justice Center and set some of the offices on fire, and the Portland police have reported cases of looting. More recently, demonstrators have thrown rocks and bottles at federal officers. But many have protested peacefully, and Gov. Kate Brown has called the presence of federal agents an “abuse of power.”

President Trump has called the demonstrators “anarchists” who “hate” the country, and Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, has blamed Oregon officials for the unrest.

Signs such as “White Silence=Violence” and “Black Lives Matter” are widespread, and calls at the demonstrations to address racial inequities persist. One woman held a sign that said: “My Black Child is Watching! #BLM She Will Know Her Life Matters.”

By late June, the size of protests had diminished significantly. Rose City Justice, a major mobilizing force in Portland, announced plans to pull back on organizing efforts. Nightly marches, numbering in the hundreds, became more decentralized.

But after federal agents, including some from the Department of Homeland Security, arrived in July, reports soon emerged that they had forcefully pulled people into unmarked vehicles, injured protesters, and deployed tear gas. Mayor Wheeler, who called the situation “an attack on our democracy,” was tear-gassed with a group of protesters outside the federal courthouse.

By the time the federal agents arrived, city leaders said, the situation on the streets had de-escalated. But outrage at the Trump administration’s deployment reinvigorated the daily rallies.

The federal agents present in Portland include personnel from the U.S. Marshals and tactical agents from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in addition to the Federal Protective Service, which was already stationed to protect federal property in Portland.

Some of the agents are from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, which typically investigates drug smuggling organizations.

Oregon has a history of white supremacy. A law passed in 1844 said that any Black person would be “whipped twice a year until he or she shall quit the territory” and leaders also later banned Black people from entering the territory.


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