Just a little was enough
I didn't watch the whole Portland protest scene last night. I couldn't. Four nights in a row of taking it all in leaves a person shaken.
They say that when you go downtown near the courthouse during the day now and a breeze picks up, there is so much gas on everything that it makes you sick. It's kind of like that with watching all the violence, even on a computer screen. It does things to you later.
Plus, it was Sunday night. Years ago, I volunteered to engineer some radio shows on KBOO every Sunday night. What I found out is that on Sunday night, you don't want to volunteer. People want to be home and regather their energy. And so I had only one eye on the Twitter coverage of the protests last night, and only for part of the night.
The size of the crowd indicated that many mainstream protesters were as exhausted as I was. It seemed like a mere fraction of the 4,000 or so from the night before. The llama was there, as were the bubble guy and the trumpet guy, and I even saw a new act, a puppet. But the sea of protesters had shrunk some, that's for sure.
As for the actual "dodgeball" action, there didn't seem to be a whole lot new. Fencie the Federal Fence was extra-fortified, and nobody seemed hellbent on knocking it over, anyway. Some people banged on it, and a couple of people jumped over it and paraded around for a while, but that was it. The cops say the grinder guys were trying to cut it again, and I have no doubt that that is true.
I saw reports of two major rounds of gas – which, by the way, includes a number of different gases – and lots of "less lethal" munitions being fired into the crowd through the spaces in the courthouse security fence. Dangerous as hell, but standard.
But then! At about 20 after 1, the crowd at the fence had grown so thin that the federal shock troops marched out and formed a line along the outside of the fence. That was a first. It led to a bunch of taunting from the remaining protesters, and several of them were then promptly beaten, tackled, arrested, or all of the above. More tear gas was released – because you can never have enough tear gas, right? – and then the feds charged up Main and Salmon to Fourth, for a standoff that lasted about an hour. Both sides wound up just hanging out there, with some of the protesters, down to a couple of dozen, screaming at the line-up of heavily armed troops.
After a long while, the feds finally decided to head back to the courthouse. As a squad of paramilitary men retreated down Salmon, a protester got too close, and one of the troops turned at shot right at him with a tear gas canister. Right at the guy's body. That is not how it's supposed to be done, but these young "officers" from Blackwater or Wherever don't seem to know or care. They are addicted to their tear gas and their pepper spray, and let's face it, they are scared. Reports are that they have called in reinforcements, and so the original crew of about 115 poorly trained "officers" is apparently going to get bigger.
One thing I kept noticing when I peeked in was federales taking video and photos. One guy was recording the license plates of all the cars parked in the area. There was somebody up on the fancy courthouse balcony operating some serious-looking video equipment. They sure do need to collect a lot of surveillance just to make sure wayward youths aren't tagging the courthouse. Not to mention the three or four spy planes that have been hanging around Portland lately. Or the drone. The erosion of individual rights is on full display.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened on Sunday, and it took place early, during the usually "nice" part of the evening, was that somebody got shot. It happened around 7:30, right in Lownsdale Square Park. Shot, as in with real ammunition. It appeared to be a civilian-on-civilian shooting. One person was reportedly driven to the hospital with a non-life-threatening gunshot wound, and the Portland police hauled off two people in connection with the incident. But those two people were released without being charged.
An unofficial report said that there had been a fight before the shooting happened.
I've been kidding about the festival atmosphere in the early evenings at the protests, but this is a reminder that it can be a dangerous place, at any time. There are no metal detectors at the entrance to a protest.
That said, the Portland cops (whom I didn't see participating in last night's clear-out) are telling an odd story about what happened when they showed up to arrest the shooting suspects. According to an official police tweet, someone pointed them to a bag, and in the bag the police say they found rounds of ammunition and Molotov cocktails:
You'll pardon me if I refrain from commenting on what these might be, or where they might have come from. I will observe, however, that the lack of public trust in the Portland police is what started the whole protest thing, and many observers will have difficulty accepting the official story.
I also know this: The Portland police would reeeeeeally rather you didn't go downtown to speak your mind about them any more for the foreseeable future.