A former Canby resident who now lives in Clackamas is sharing their experiences participating in the Black Lives Matter protests that have shaken Portland the past four nights, saying the vast majority of demonstrators were peaceful and just want their voices to be heard.
“From what I’ve seen, both locally and online, the police are acting as agitators in response to mostly peaceful protests,” they opined.
The resident attended the protests on Saturday night at Chapman Square — across the street from the Multnomah County Justice Center, which had been damaged and even set ablaze during escalating demonstrations the previous night — later termed a “riot” by some police officials.
That’s not what this resident saw on Saturday.
“I would estimate there were less than 200 people spread throughout the park and across the street from the Justice Center,” the said. “There was chanting and folks were engaging with motorists driving by and honking in support. Numbers increased, but I believe there were no more than 300 people once the police started to get involved.”
The demonstrators moved to 3rd and Main and laid themselves on the ground, face-down, arms behind their backs — evoking the posture of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes during an attempted arrest.
“Within what seemed like 10 minutes,” according to the witness, Portland police told protesters the demonstration was unlawful and threatened to use force if they didn’t move west, back into the park. The protesters remained in the intersection.
“At this point, a line of police, in masks and armor, were moving west on Main, still requesting the demonstration to head west,” the witness described. “A concussion grenade was sent into the crowd, causing protesters to move quickly back into the park. As the group started to slowly re-form on the west side of the park and move back towards the Justice Center, more concussion grenades were sent towards the protesters, along with tear gas and colored smoke bombs.”
Portland Police Chief Jami Resh later said officers had been targeted with fireworks and aerial mortars from some of the demonstrators. Others reportedly threw rocks and debris.
The group split and headed toward Pioneer Square, before regrouping and moving east to the riverfront. Protesters doused their eyes and face masks with water and milk to counteract the sting of the tear gas.
The resident has closely followed the demonstrations throughout the country, and decided to attend Saturday’s event in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and to denounce what they described as “the increased violence of the Portland police.”
After several hours, they decided to leave when police said they would start making arrests if the protesters did not disperse. Despite the obvious tension, the resident said they did not feel they were in danger.
“The sense of community within the protest group made me feel safe,” they said. “Folks were spreading supplies and medical attention whenever it was needed.”
They said they believe the demonstrations are necessary to bring about meaningful racial and criminal justice reform.
“Property damage is nowhere near the value of human life,” they said. “Public condemnations are not enough when we need systematic change. As someone who has voted every chance I’ve gotten since turning of age, I believe we’re past the point of any justifiable reform through voting.”
Governor Kate Brown joined her voice in support of both the peaceful demonstrations of the murder of George Floyd and the call for reform, in a press conference Monday that included black leaders from the Portland area.
She also announced she would be sending 100 Oregon State troopers to back-up Portland police officers during the continued unrest, and 50 unarmed National Guard members to “serve in a support function only.”
While other first-hand and media accounts describe similar confrontations with police that Saturday, including the use of flashbangs, the demonstrations appear to have grown progressively more peaceful and less destructive — even as their numbers have grown, providing a stark contrast to other scenes across the country.
The sight of Portland police taking a knee in solidarity with protesters drew cheers from crowds of onlookers (footage of the scene later went viral), while the chief of police has spoken with protesters and heard their “very good ideas” on new ways officers could engage with demonstrators.
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Mayor Wheeler and other officials say it is much smaller, outlying groups that continue to commit acts of vandalism and property damage, including graffiti that has appeared on memorials and walls throughout the city.
The Canby Now Podcast would like to hear more stories from those involved in or affected by the recent demonstrations and unrest, including business owners who have been impacted and those who are trying to keep the piece. If you’d like to get in touch, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Dave Killen, of The Oregonian. Used with permission.
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