Portland protests get nastier
Saturday night's episode of the reality show known as The Portland Protests was every bit as action-packed as Friday night's. But the end of the show, the violent part, was a lot uglier than the denouement of the night before.
Let's start with the local color at the early evening demonstration. Actually, there were multiple locations for the preliminaries on Saturday. A crowd estimated at close to 3,000 was in the usual spot across from the downtown courthouses, but a couple of other events were going on in other parts of town. In particular, a group of many hundreds of younger people was at Alberta Park in northeast Portland, and from there they marched on Killingsworth Street and MLK Boulevard to the North Police Precinct, where they shouted insults at some Portland cops in riot gear for about a half hour.
Meanwhile, downtown, the early scene was merry once again. A trombone guy joined the trumpet guy from Friday. The trombone was purple, and at one point the player played "The Star-Spangled Banner" over by the security fence surrounding the embattled federal courthouse.
Elsewhere in the downtown crowd was the politically active llama that shows up to support progressive causes. This is Portland, and so no, I am not making this up.
The bubble machine was back, with a semi-permanent location slightly above what would surely be the fray later on.
One interesting development last night was that a large segment of the downtown protester group broke off and walked a few blocks to picket the Marriott hotel, which is rumored to be housing some of the shock troops in their off-duty hours. It seemed like an odd time to go down there, since all of the troops were presently holed up in the federal courthouse. Serenading them at about 8 a.m. would seem more effective. But anyway, the hosts at the Marriott couldn't have been too happy, and I guess that was point enough for the protesters to make for now.
There wasn't as much great footage to be watched on Twitter as there was on Friday, in part because the journalists, like the demonstrators, were split into the two locations. I followed the northeast crowd (virtually) as it made its way toward downtown, but that is one heck of a long march, and the nightly craziness at the courthouse security fence did not wait for these reinforcements to arrive.
Oh, poor Fencie, the Federal Fence. It had been fortified pretty stoutly yesterday afternoon by the federal occupiers, so that it was stronger than ever before. But the demonstrators weren't fazed. First they placed a lovely floral arrangement on it, braiding a variety of flowers through the chain links – lovely, that is, except for the fact that the flowers spelled out "Fuck the Feds." Elsewhere along the length of the barrier, someone had filled a stretch of the spaces in the fence with insulation caulking, so that the federal troops would no longer be able to see out.
As it was growing dark, a few of the dudes who abuse Fencie every night wielded grinders and started trying to bust through it that way. Eventually, they did manage to cut a hole big enough for one goofy protester to jump through and do a little superior dance. Later on, despite the fortification, sections of the fence finally fell as the demonstrators pounded it relentlessly and pulled at it with ropes.
When the current troubles are all over, I hope they sell pieces of Fencie as memorabilia, like they did with the Berlin Wall. It's now a part of Portland history that will not soon be forgotten, however the story winds up. I'm sure before long someone is going to hold a wedding just outside that fence, with everybody wearing gas masks.
The Burning Man vibe was rolling along pretty strong when "dodgeball time" came, just before 11. The federales made their first appearance outside the courthouse, and they stood there, inside Fencie, who was still okay at that point, for about 15 minutes. Then the feds initiated their signature tear gas and munitions extravaganza, which was as heavy as ever. They shot gas, rubber bullets, and pepper balls at the raging crowd for just about an hour, with the protesters hurling the tear gas canisters back over the fence and winging their own projectiles, including big fireworks, at the boys in their camouflage. The leafblower brigade did their thing.
A few people in the crowd were pointing lasers at the feds, trying to damage their eyesight, I guess. You hate to see that. Like I say, it's getting nastier.
At one point, and I didn't see exactly how it happened, somebody threw a big quantity of pink paint over the fence, and some of the feds were hit with it. Right about then, the troops walked back into the courthouse, and nobody saw hardly any of them for more than an hour. For a while, there was somebody in an upper-floor courthouse window, and one protester was trying to hit him or her with a Roman candle.
During that hour, the northeast youth marchers arrived, and since they had walked all that way (including a leg through the Rose Quarter), they weren't going home then, even though the atmosphere was already tear-gassy. And so when the second wave of stormtrooping came, at 1:00, there were more people around than I have ever seen down there at that time of night.
The crowd's size may be why the feds made their second surge so intense and horrible. They decided to shoot tear gas from the roof of the courthouse – a first – and they aimed into the middle of the crowd, not at the people at the fence. This meant that the gas landed where pretty much ordinary people were milling about, people who by no stretch of the imagination were touching any federal property. It was a lot of gas, even by the troops' amateur standards, and many people tasted it for the first time, I'm sure. People were rushing around blinded by the stuff. Then, for the element of surprise, instead of coming out on the usual Third Avenue side, the feds came out the back door, on Second, and stormed up the side streets pushing west.
At this point, for the first time in four nights, the local cops jumped in! The Portland Police DJ From Hell got on the public address system and started making his singsong riot announcements. This guy's shtick is straight out of a science fiction movie. He says the same threatening things over and over, but in a cheery voice like an oldies radio station.
He sounds like the color commentator for the Mariners on TV. You know that nasally guy who, whenever a new pitcher is warming up, says, "He's got a fast ball, curve ball, splitter, 94 miles an hour..." in that grating voice? His twin is working the sound truck at the riots for the Portland police.
But I digress. The local cops and the feds, clearly working in tandem, gave the crowd the customary bull rush, but in spades. The feds pushed people to the west, up three different streets at least, and the Portland blue pushed most of the rest to the north on Fourth. Massive law enforcement presence, with many Portland police cars wailing away. The cops on foot ended up holding the line at the 7-Eleven again, which at some point is destined to become a tourist destination like the Alamo.
The feds wandered far from the federal property that they are ostensibly protecting. Video showed federal officers at Broadway and Taylor, which is five blocks away.
And the feds were particularly brutal, childish, and unprofessional during this phase of the evening. This tweet, by Andrew Kimmel, gives you an idea of what it was like. A Vietnam vet had the nerve to try to address the stormtroopers, and he got turned around and pepper sprayed in the face for it. It was beyond cruel.
There were other juvenile actions by the paramilitary as well, again many blocks away from the courthouse. Mark Hatfield, the building's namesake, is rolling over in his grave.
But amidst all this, as some of the younger protester set were retreating in front of the Portland police charging up Fourth, they started dancing away, having a grand time. By 3 in the morning, a group of native American drummers had emerged, singing and chanting in the middle of the street, facing a line of feds brandishing big guns.
As of 4:00, a couple of hundred young people were back at the park, insulting the troops and looking for trouble. But things seemed to be cooling down, and the journalists I followed had mostly packed it in.
Did anything important happen? I think a couple of things occurred last night that are significant going forward. First, the feds went way off campus when they did their big clear-out. The party line that "they're not out on the streets" is just hogwash.
Second, the Portland police clearly cooperated with the federal effort, in violation of the City Council resolution passed just a few days ago. Yeah, they declared a "riot," but hey, there's been a "riot" announced just about every night, and the council plainly stated its wishes that the local police not cooperate. Heck, they didn't just cooperate, they in fact coordinated. The mayor, whom I doubt was consulted, will be under enormous pressure to push back.
And just hours before the Portland force jumped into last night's fray (I told you there was going to be fray), the police chief and the police bureau's p.r. flack posted a couple of stunning, combative items on social media that are going to have tongues wagging for quite a while.
But this tongue will have to wait until later to wag about them. It's been a long, mostly nasty night.