A few hours after Saturday's hundreds-strong march marking the one-year anniversary of Occupy Portland and the 11th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, a few dozen occupiers decided on a symbolic gesture: They gathered in the federally owned and controlled Terry Schrunk Plaza—across SW Madison from Chapman Square—for what could have been a reoccupation.
That was cool with the cops from the Federal Protective Services and the Department of Homeland Security, until a little after 10 pm, when Schrunk officially closes. Eventually, according to witnesses and video, things took a turn and almost ended with a handful of federal cops itching to fire less-lethal weapons like rubber-bullet guns and Tasers at a group of protesters who'd given in to cops pretty easily and were standing on the sidewalk.
Not long after the park's curfew, the feds made good on a promise to sweep the place that had been delivered to protesters an hour or so before. Three or four federal cops showed up in riot gear—joined by a couple of dozen more Portland cops, also decked out in armor and helmets, called in as backup.
Even then, things were still cordial, if tense. The armored cops quickly swept the park clear, pushing the protesters west toward the sidewalk along SW 4th, across from city hall. Everyone played their roles perfectly in what's become a familiar script over the past year. And the Portland cops, satisfied they'd been of assistance, marched back to Central Precinct.
"None of us wanted to stand up to that," says Mike Bluehair, who filmed the goings-on on Saturday. "It seemed suicidal."
And that's when—after everything seemed done, the night almost made headlines.
Amid some jawboning, according to the video, a woman trying to take a photo of the cops wound up stepping slightly onto the grass. She was shoved back by an officer, and when outraged protesters shouted at cops—with one guy sticking a sign in front of one cop's face—the handful of remaining officers snapped into action.
More protesters were shoved. Crowd-control guns and Tasers, with laser pointers, were aimed. The Portland riot squad was called back. And then? A Portland sergeant, says Bluehair, stepped forward as the voice of reason on the brink of a melee. The protesters stayed on the sidewalk. The Portland cops retreated. And so did the feds.
"The homeland security people, I don't think they're trained in dealing with activists," Bluehair says. "The level of force they were tempted to use was uncalled for."
That's not the only thing that's still troubling Bluehair. He said, and the video confirms this, that the federal cops came out with the identifying information their badges—name and number—covered with black strips.
And Bluehair said the commander on scene, whom he identified as Michael Foster, wouldn't give his subordinates' names, even as he promised anyone using excessive force "will be dealt with." Portland cops have to give out their badge numbers, but officers working inside Portland, even at the behest of Portland cops, have to answer only to their own internal policies on the use of force and providing identification.
"We could have retaken the park" after the cops left, Bluehair says. "But I felt intimidate, as if I would've been assaulted. It adds a chilling effect on your willingness to continue the activism you were engaged in."
I've also left a message for a spokeswoman with the federal General Services Administration, which oversees Schrunk, and I'll update if/when I hear back.