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.