When a video showing George Floyd’s death in police custody spread across social media, cities and towns nationwide soon erupted in protests against systemic racism and police brutality. But while protests in many places subsided after a few weeks, Portland, Oregon, has been holding demonstrations every night since May 29.The arrival of federal forces in the city this month — and concerns they were exceeding their authority and violating protesters’ rights — drew the ire of local officials and reinvigorated nightly demonstrations. With renewed force, marchers have spray-painted the walls of the U.S. District Court building, demanding that federal agents go home. Groups of mothers have banded together, locking arms and chanting: “Feds stay clear. Moms are here.”
Early in the protests, protesters broke into the Multnomah County Justice Center and set some of the offices on fire, and the Portland police have reported cases of looting. More recently, demonstrators have thrown rocks and bottles at federal officers. But many have protested peacefully, and Gov. Kate Brown has called the presence of federal agents an “abuse of power.”
President Donald Trump has called the demonstrators “anarchists” who “hate” the country, and Chad F. Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, has blamed Oregon officials for the unrest.
What are the protesters demanding?
What started out as a movement for police accountability and racial justice has morphed into a complex mobilization. The protesters’ goals now include defunding the police, addressing income inequality and pushing federal agents out of the city.
In Portland, which is one of America’s whitest cities and has a racist history, protesters have maintained a public call for change that has subsided elsewhere in the country.
Experts say the protests bring together a coalition of racial justice proponents and anti-fascist advocates, who have long been active in Portland. The groups share some intersecting grievances and common goals, such as cutting police budgets and installing more civilian oversight of the police.
Signs such as “White Silence=Violence” and “Black Lives Matter” are widespread, and calls at the demonstrations to address racial inequities persist. One woman held a sign that said: “My Black Child is Watching! #BLM She Will Know Her Life Matters.”
Demonstrators have also expressed increasing frustration with the federal presence and the Trump administration.
“What is making more people come to the street every night now is the brutalization that’s happening to regular community members at the hands of Portland police and these federal agents,” Jo Ann Hardesty, a city commissioner, said at a news conference.
How has the city responded?
Street protests began four days after the death of Floyd in Minneapolis. As the demonstrations continued and officers used tear gas to disperse crowds, public outrage against aggressive police tactics increased and calls to defund the police escalated.
On June 8, after more than a week of large-scale demonstrations involving thousands of marchers, the chief of the Portland Police Bureau stepped down, saying new leadership was needed to rebuild public trust. Shortly after, a federal judge upheld restrictions on tear gas put in place by Mayor Ted Wheeler, barring the use of the chemical agent except when life or safety was at risk.
The City Council also passed a budget that would cut $15 million from the police in the upcoming fiscal year, a demand sought by protesters.
Why have the protests continued this long?
By late June, the size of protests had diminished significantly. Rose City Justice, a major mobilizing force in Portland, announced plans to pull back on organizing efforts. Nightly marches, numbering in the hundreds, became more decentralized.
But after federal agents, including some from the Department of Homeland Security, arrived in July, reports soon emerged that they had forcefully pulled people into unmarked vehicles, injured protesters and deployed tear gas. Mayor Wheeler, who called the situation “an attack on our democracy.” was tear-gassed with a group of protesters outside the federal courthouse.
By the time the federal agents arrived, city leaders said, the situation on the streets had de-escalated. But outrage at the Trump administration’s deployment reinvigorated the daily rallies.
Which federal law enforcement agencies are involved?
The federal agents present in Portland include personnel from the U.S. Marshals and tactical agents from Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in addition to the Federal Protective Service, which was already stationed to protect federal property in Portland.
Some of the agents are from a group known as BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s equivalent of a SWAT team, which typically investigates drug smuggling organizations.
What is motivating the movement in Portland?
Oregon has a history of white supremacy. A law passed in 1844 said that any Black person would be “whipped twice a year until he or she shall quit the territory,” and leaders also later banned Black people from entering the territory.
Some protesters say the state’s deeply racist history is still reflected in Portland’s structures. One protester, Reginald Liggins, who is Black, told The New York Times that he began commuting by bus after being pulled over multiple times by the Portland police without reason. Liza Lopetrone, a veterinary nurse who is white and joined the Wall of Moms protest this past week, said she wanted to bring the state’s white supremacist legacy to light.
Others were not moved to participate until federal agents entered the city. Christopher J. David, a Navy veteran who was filmed being beaten with a baton by federal officers, had not followed the protests until U.S. agents were deployed. He came to the protests to ask officers about their use of violent tactics against protesters, which he said conflicted with their oath to uphold the Constitution.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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