Protesters, cops keep their cools again (mostly)

Last night's episode of The Portland Protests was a lot like the episode from the night before. Many hundreds of people went to the core of downtown for a lot of speechifying, marching around, chanting, sign-waving, and generally showing outrage at racial injustice generally and police brutality particularly. It was loud, and it went on for hours. But there was no serious assault on government property, and no police or paramilitary engagement with the crowd.

So chalk another one up for the general sense that the federal shock troops that have occupied the city will be departing soon. But there were a couple of blue notes mixed in with the sweet music.

First, the feds aren't really leaving town. The marshals and security guards at the federal buildings are here to stay, of course; it's been their permanent job all along to watch over the federal buildings and their occupants. And not only that, but yesterday it was revealed that more than 130 of the camouflage crusaders from the border patrol and customs agency – who, by the way, are notorious as some the nastiest dudes ever to wear a uniform in this country – are not exiting our fair city. They'll be holed up somewhere in Portland (the Marriott hotel on the waterfront being a prime suspect) for an indefinite period of time. Supposedly they will jump in as a "quick reaction" force if things at the protests get beyond the control of the marshals, the security guard service, and the state and local cops. (Or maybe they'll seize the post office.)

Second, although the demonstrator crowd was on its best behavior once again for most of last night's event, toward the end, after midnight, things got a bit tense. Most of the tension was created by the small segment of the protesters that seems to have a problem with fireworks and fire.

This group, quite young to my old eyes, decided that their nightly bonfire, which they usually set up where the elk statue used to stand, should be moved the the middle of Third Avenue, right in front of the federal courthouse. They got a small pile of garbage lit, but some members of the Wall of Moms promptly came over with water bottles and put it out. About a dozen people around the fire booed, but I was glad to see the Moms do it, because fires in front of the courthouse have triggered the federal stormtroopers nearly every night. At least when it was inside the security fence, the start of the garbage fire has usually kicked off a five-minute countdown to tear gas. And just minutes before last night's bonfire, someone had torched a flag that was hanging on the fence.

Around this time, federal officers did come out of the courthouse and onto the street, through a service door that they like to use on the Salmon Street side. Fortunately for the sake of the peace, only a couple of dozen protesters saw them. Someone had thrown a bunch of garbage right in front of the door. This looked a lot like the trash that has been the fuel of the previous nights' "taunting" fires, and so when the feds appeared, all of them armed except two guys with brooms, observers were holding their breath. But the guys with the brooms just pushed the garbage out into the street so that it wouldn't block the door, and the patrol then walked back into the building. They were heckled by the small band of protesters who were in the area. And at least one small object was thrown at the officers. But they didn't react; they just left.

Back on Third, the firestarters did what young people always do. They waited until the Moms went home, and then started another fire. But this time, a couple of them walked over to a nearby storefront, whose windows were boarded up, and peeled the boards off the windows for fuel for the pyro show. When the fire got big enough, the demonstrators burned a toy pig or two.

I thought, how rude to the business whose boards were literally ripped off. They will show up in the morning and think, you really can't win in downtown Portland.

Anyway, this second fire got pretty large. Soon a couple of officers appeared on the balcony of the federal courthouse. At least one was pacing up and down along the ledge. Right about this time, someone threw a firework over the security fence. At least one other object hit the building.

The fireworks thing is a big no-no, as this teenager is finding out. He's facing federal arson charges after his identity was given away by his grandmother's social media post. (Ah, the old social media incriminating evidence... reminds me of a story...)

I thought for sure there was going to be a police response when the fire grew and the stuff went over the fence, but there wasn't. Whoever was calling the shots in law enforcement showed a lot of restraint, for once.

The dwindling crowd around the fire went on orating, chanting, and arguing with each other, and nothing else of concern happened. Things petered out entirely after 2:30.

It should be noted that there were at least two other sizable events for Black Lives Matter around the city last evening to go with the big show at the federal courthouse. For a place as white as Portland to have this much soul is remarkable. The fool in the White House sent a real jolt of energy into the movement here.


  1. If this is only a lull I'm still grateful. I need to process all these images swirling around in my head all set to an endless version of Warren Zevon's "Werewolfs of London" renamed "Teargas in Portland": "I saw a federal soldier with a beer in his hand, drinking in the lounge at the Marriott, he was looking for an elk statue that was no longer there, and all the gas was making the trees rot. Aaooo! Teargas in Portland!"
    I've also been thinking back to 1989 when I visited my younger sister in Birmingham, Alabama. The documentary "Eyes on the Prize" had just come out and we'd watch an episode and then go visit the actual places from the civil rights movement. It was very profound. For being so famous, Selma was a small town - maybe 20,000. There was a tiny music store on the main street with cassettes of local musicians so I got a few of those. I recognized some names there like "The Mighty Clouds of Joy" but most were obscure names with the song lists written out by pen.
    The Edmund Pettis Bridge looked exactly like it did when John Lewis had his skull fractured by state troopers. In fact it still does judging from the shots of the horse-drawn carriage taking John Lewis across one last time this past week. Montgomery was also much smaller than I thought and had what looked like the same style buses as back in the day. The Dexter Baptist Church was just a cute little building that belied the incredible history that went down there. We went into the basement where Dr. Martin Luther King organized the Montgomery Bus Boycott and then came back out to see similar buses still rolling on the city streets. That was a little like time-traveling. Plus you knew anyone you saw over 50 was probably there when it all exploded. You could certainly see some of them were carrying secrets from the past. It was obvious.
    The church in Birmingham that had been bombed by the KKK was much more substantial. Spike Lee made a film about that one called "4 Little Girls" and he didn't hold back, showing the actual photographs of the little girls burnt bodies. I hope we can avoid anything that grim but you know what? We've actually been damn lucky that nobody has been killed thus far.
    Anyone of these rubber bullets or other projectiles could have killed somebody if they hit right. The local media still hasn't covered the 3 soldiers who were reportedly blinded by lasers. As ugly as it's been, we're still not getting the whole story. As someone who's lived in the Middle East where they use live ammo on protesters, I still don't think most Americans appreciate how close to the abyss we've been treading. "Aaaaooooo! Teargas in Portland!"

  2. I think we can stop repeating the bit about three federales supposedly blinded — there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that, had that occurred, Reichsmarschall Barr would thrill to be able to treat something like that as his Reichstag fire moment and declare democracy inoperative, and Faux News and AON and the rest of the right wing sewer media would be demanding blood for dear Horst Wessel.

  3. Are you saying Barr didn't mention this at the hearing? From the Oregonian: "Barr said federal authorities had a duty to defend against violent attacks and rioters, and said protesters have attempted to burn down the building, shot commercial fireworks, and used pellet guns and slingshots to shoot projectiles that have injured federal officers “to the bone” as well as lasers that have damaged officers’ eyesight." I've seen reference to temporary blindness in other stories but nobody mentions it locally. I'm not sure if it's real or permanent but Barr definitely mentions it in front of Nadler's committee. Frankly, it sounds like you're stuck in the "peaceful protest" narrative while there's definitely some violent shit going on from the protesters' side too. For example there's video of protesters throwing an incendiary device into the lobby of the Justice Center and then rushing forward with pieces of fence to try and trap the people in the lobby so they couldn't escape. The whole one-sided narrative is so ridiculous because before the feds got here, the teargas was from our people. Suddenly the big problem was Trump as if Wheeler didn't run the show for a long time before the feds arrived. Maybe that's why you retreat to the Nazi reference with Reichsmarschall Barr, but seriously, haven't you heard of the Godwin Law? Nazi references are so trite. By the way, did you see Nancy Pelosi saying she didn't call the feds "stormtroopers" - she just said they "acted like stormtroopers"? What are we? 6 years old now? Besides she added that she was crossing her fingers when she said it so it doesn't count.


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