- denis c. theriault
- My vantage point from inside the police kettle. Riot cops closed in at SW 2nd and Main from all four approaches.
Nearly three and half hours into Saturday's local Ferguson rally and march—keynoted by an uplifting visit from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and led, again, by grassroots members of Portland's black community—the shift from hot to cold, from pocket to air, knocked my phone out of commission. (Not that it would've lasted much longer. My battery life showing up at just under 10 percent when the spinning iPhone circle flashed and the thing went dark.)
So imagine my relief an hour or so later, when Cameron and I were chatting near Broadway and SW Jefferson and he offered to share his very own still-charged phone with me.
I'd caught a lot. And missed a lot. But it was a lucky break that I had a phone during the climax of the night—when the cops finally moved in to make arrests and bust up a group that had been rallying since 6 pm.
Or, AKA, when the cops knowingly detained a print reporter—me—who'd invoked his standing and (admitted) privilege as a member of the media. A member well-known enough that Mayor Charlie Hales, the city's police commissioner, has mentioned my stories (at least one!) in city council hearings. This is the kind of thing that got national attention years ago during the Occupy frenzy.
But we'll get back to that. First, there was the tense standoff at the foot of the Burnside Bridge that was just starting when my phone died. It ended when them march pulled away down 2nd, through cars. The organizers had been playing tug of war for most of the march with a handful of protesters who wanted to seize bridges and risk getting batoned in the process. And then there was that long spell at SW 6th and Morrison, where the march stalled and tangled up MAX traffic through downtown.
One of the relative handful of marchers looking to face down police, against the wishes of the march's organizers, had decided to sit on a police SUV's hood while cops in hard gear milled about unsure how to proceed. That egged people on, and he started walking on the car, climbing atop it. Eventually, the following went down: the SUV pulled back, he slipped off and ran to freedom past a grenadier officer, riot cops marched in—and, after another tense standoff that saw some of the crowd following, but never touching, a retreating riot line, cops fired two flash bang grenades. Those grenades were the first I've heard during a protest in the three years I've been covering them in Portland. (I was just a few feet away, and ran like mad in case more came out and tear gas and impact munitions followed. If my phone was working, I'd have had an excellent shot of the guy atop the police SUV.)
The cops then declared the whole gathering unlawful, after tolerating a march that initially spread down three blocks as it meandered all over downtown, and surged and pushed until the crowd took the hint and started walking again. It was with some irony that this all happened in front of Macy's and wealthy shoppers and the fancy Nines hotel.
The cops clearly weren't happy.
And with unsanctioned marches downtown every day since Monday, except for Thursday and Friday nights, they were tired. Tuesday's conquering of two bridges and a brief intrusion onto Interstate 5 was discomfiting and came after a city-sanctioned march—giving officials and other outlets an attack line that overshadowed the sense of community, hope, and family that dominated most of that event. And on Wednesday, they were made to look as if they'd overreacted—with riot cops doing the protesters' work of closing bridges and highways—when a polite march led by the same people who organized Saturday's affair stayed on the sidewalk and even stopped at most red lights.
All the same, by the time Cameron and I were talking on SW Broadway last night, things had calmed again. A few hundred people were chanting and singing. I didn't see any of the bottles the police bureau mentioned being thrown—admittedly it's a big march—even if some people really did yell at the cops who were walking along the group and keeping watch. (Which isn't illegal, even if it comes off confrontational.)
That calm vanished in a flash not long after the march turned down SW 2nd and stopped in the intersection of SW 2nd and Main, near Central Precinct and the bureau's administrative headquarters. Riot cops stood before the Hawthorne Bridge entrance, like flames beckoning moths, who largely resisted the lure. About 70 people were finishing a "die-in" when the riot cops resurfaced (inmates or someone in the jail flashed room lights out of solidarity)—and this time there were no warnings to get on the sidewalks or to go away. "Everyone in the street is under arrest," their PA van blared while men and women in hard gear pushed toward us from every direction. Later, they expanded that arrest statement to "everyone on the four corners" of SW 2nd and Main—no matter if someone was standing on the sidewalk.
- Cameron Whitten
- The peaceable die-in in the middle of SW 2nd and Main, with hardly any traffic in the area, that police showed up to kettle.
This was a kettle. We were surrounded.
Me, Cameron, protesters, even TV reporters and camera operators, from KATU and maybe another station. They were telling us get into the street. I've been in these kettles before. I'd always been let out as a member of the press—spared arrest and detainment and allowed to do my job. I shouted to catch Commander Sara Westbrook's attention while she conferred with supervisees behind the riot line—making the cops on that line clutch their large batons excitedly. She knows me. We kibbitzed before the Million Mask March this month about bicycling weather and fall in Portland.
I waved my notebook so other cops could see it. She told me I was in the cordon all the same. She did not offer to let me out when I asked if I might be excluded.
At first, I wasn't all that troubled. The riot cops had begun slowly cramming us onto the Northeast corner of 2nd and Main. The orders were that we'd be arrested once we were hemmed in and that we should follow instructions to avoid force. I figured I'd be released fairly quickly and left alone once I made clear who I was—unlike several people who actively were afraid of violence and harm once they were booked and out of sight.
But as the "oh shit we're trapped feeling" wore off—after I tweeted out that everyone, even media, was in the kettle—I noticed some peculiar things. First, this was the first time in several protests I can recall the police bureau using this tactic on a crowd, relying on the same kind of "unlawful assembly" language I've heard in live streams in other cities, usually after looting and vandalism. (Portlanders' worst sins have been walking in traffic—I've seen no businesses harmed since Monday.) The kettle didn't care who was on the sidewalk or not. I was on the sidewalk. Many people were. We didn't want to interfere with the die-in. Usually, once the roads are clear, the police "allow" First Amendment protests. I guess this time, they'd had enough—and it's possible the dispersal order from outside Macy's was still technically in effect, and that's why they didn't need to warn us before rolling in with talk of arrests.
The second thing I noticed was that none of the TV staffers who'd been in the kettle initially were still stuffed in with the detainees—a group that largely wasn't wearing black handkerchiefs or Fawkes masks, etc. That meant Westbrook and police officials let out other media but willfully decided that I would be detained, and, based on the PA's instructions at the time, presumably arrested. (Some people, in fact, were arrested. I saw at least two people pulled off the outer ring of the crowd by riot cops as they pressed their way around us like a human version of the Death Star trash compactor.)
Update 9:45 AM: Activist and blogger Hart Noecker, who wrote a post about Tuesday's march and also wrote a widely shared post detailing the three Portland cops eventually under investigation for posting "I Am Darren Wilson" Facebook profile pictures using official Portland badges, was among the 10 arrested. He reported his booking officer was one of those three cops, Rich Storm. Hales had promised not to assign either of those three cops to protest duty—something his staff followed up on personally, making sure I noted it, when I didn't initially include that update in a blog post last week. According to Noecker, it seems, that prohibition just meant being on the streets, not dealing with protesters who eventually wound up under arrest.
Thanks to Cameron's phone, I was able to tweet at Hales' office, calling a known reporter's inability to leave the kettle "unacceptable." I was able to get word to colleagues and my boss, who was tied up acting in a live version of the old Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV special. (Get your tickets fast!) I let people know that other media had been let out, and that Westbrook had chosen not to extend the same courtesy to me. And, in an especially gratifying turn, several reporters in town blared their concern and outrage, too.
Why is reporter detained? “@theriaultpdx: Again I will note that @PortlandPolice let the television cameras out. #favoritism #pdx #Ferguson”
— Brad Schmidt (@_Brad_Schmidt) November 30, 2014
Not long after those tweets, the instructions began to shift—also after the crowd began to chant "bathroom break" and "let us disperse." Once the buzzing masses, maybe 100 or more people, quieted down, we could hear that the PA truck had started saying, instead, that we would be let go, one-by-one, so long as we stayed patient and docile, kept on the sidewalks, and went either north on 2nd or west on Main.
I finally called my wife and let her know what was happening, now that it wasn't so bad. But Cameron and I were still detained, and far from the part of the crowd being released. We settled in for a wait as the crowd noticeably began thinning. It wasn't all that long, however.
Eventually Sergeant Richard Stainbrook, a Portland cop since 1992 and not wearing hard gear, walked over from across Main to the east end of the kettle where Cameron and I were standing. He pointed to me and asked if I wanted out or if I wanted "to stick around." I'm no martyr. And I already knew my arrest experience probably wouldn't be so authentic, given that I was a reporter, to be interesting enough to risk a smudge on my record.
So I said I did. And asked if Cameron could follow, too. He could. Stainbrook let us out not to the north or the west, but to the east. He even let Cameron head across Main to get his expensive bike from the bike corral where he'd locked it—so long as I stayed put.
We were the only people let out in that direction. He was unfailing warm and polite to boot. I asked him if someone had passed word that I should be found and released. He explained that he just remembered seeing me around was all and that he knew I was chronicling things.
Cameron and I left and headed around the block to Salmon and SW 2nd where we watched the riot cops melt away along with the protesters.
I started writing this while feeling indignant. But now I feel lousy for focusing so much on what happened to me. And that the incident with the flash bangs is also going to get so much attention. The speeches on the steps of the main jail last night were excellent—including a searing August Wilson monologue by organizer Teressa Raiford's niece. Raiford and others explained again and again why Tuesday's sanctioned march by the Albina Ministerial Alliance and others wasn't enough for many activists in and out of the African American community. They also repeated their calls for marchers to remain nonviolent and peaceful, clearly not seeing (nor should they see) the "violence" that some people ascribe to the ephemeral inconvenience of having a street blocked for a few minutes before moving along.
- denis c. theriault
- The sprawling crowd at last night's rally.
Hundreds of people, close to 1,000, had eventually gathered on those steps, onto the road in front of them, and in the park, Chapman Square, beyond. There was grumbling early about the Reverend Jackson, but most rapturously followed his call-and-response admonitions against profiling, for justice, for community, for accountability. The crowd also cheered like mad when a representative from $15 Now Portland connected economic opportunity to the disparate poverty experienced by African Americans, amplifying cycles of violence that sometimes are ended by police bullets.
- denis c. theriault
- The Reverend Jesse Jackson wins over a crowd of hundreds.
I wasn't sure why the Portland police bureau didn't let this crowd have a bridge when it was all said and done. They weren't breaking windows. No one was setting fires or on a rampage. They chanted. They chanted some more. They amused drivers and passers-by. They bad people to join them.
The bridges were closed anyway. It was just that they did it themselves—for the protesters. Some protesters noted that.
- denis c. theriault
- The police bureau closed the Broadway Bridge before the protesters even got close to it.
Aside from a few tense moments—with people shouting down those who helped spark them until the never-fails catnip of cops in riot gear proved too much to ignore outside the Nines (like in an almost-surge at the Broadway Bridge last night)—this was a peaceful and passionate march. In their release late last night, that's when the bureau mentioned arrests and violence. Specifically, bottles and cans. I'd be happy to post video of anything like that if livestreamers caught it. I tweeted on Tuesday about the altercations with motorists and show pictures of riot cop clashes like anyone else. I didn't see anything like bottles or cans being thrown—although, like I said earlier, I wasn't everywhere on the riot lines.
- denis c. theriault
- The marchers approach the Broadway Bridge.
In all, 10 people were arrested during the die-in protest, the bureau said. Their statement said rubber bullets were never in use and that a police car was damaged. (I'd heard that last bit from protesters, too.)
The bureau's statement also said the following:
"A larger group of people was briefly detained then released and told to leave the area. Those arrested include nine adults and one juvenile. Several members of the media were present during this incident but no media members were arrested, as was being speculated on Twitter."
That wasn't just idle speculation. I was there listening to the instructions on a PA truck telling me and others that's what was happening. That we'd be arrested. But that also misses the point.
Media were detained. Media on the sidewalk were detained. TV folks were detained very briefly. Myself, much longer—let go well after TV cameras were allowed to leave. (I'm not sure what became of the O's Bryan Denson after the march took off a bit after 7.)
That's still disturbing. That's also disturbingly not covered in the statement.
If I tried to genially walk out through a line of riot cops, I would have been charged with misdemeanors like disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. I might have been seen as displaying physical resistance or an intent to engage in physical resistance. Sure, I was an active and known reporter... actively reporting. I still wasn't free to go.
That's not speculation. That's just a fact.