More than smoke, or fire, or shattered glass, the streets of Portland on Monday were bathed in Pepsi.
The corporate soda giant, whose universally panned advertisement recently attempted to bridge the gap between police and protesters via a pretty model and a cold can of brown sugary liquid, was again the topic du jour that afternoon—and not for its peace-bringing abilities.
A handful of anarchists and other anti-capitalists hurled cans of the drink, along with a few glass bottles (which police may be calling Molotov cocktails) and smoke canisters toward cops keeping an eye on them from the rear of a large, permitted May Day march through downtown streets.
It was all the Portland Police Bureau (PPB)—on edge after repeated demonstrations in recent months—needed to see to shut down the rest of the march.
“THE PERMIT FOR THIS MARCH IS CANCELED,” a police loudspeaker blared over the sound of drumbeats. “THIS IS AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY BASED ON THE VIOLENCE OF THE CROWD. WE ARE ADVISING FAMILIES AND PERSONS WITH SMALL CHILDREN TO LEAVE THE AREA EXPEDITIOUSLY.”
Not long afterward, the event got a new label from cops: riot.
Over the next hour, downtown Portland was a frenzy of flash bangs and damaged property. In the largest show of destruction since the vandalism that followed Donald Trump’s election in November, anarchists smashed windows of stores and government buildings, defaced a police SUV (“ACAB,” for “all cops are bastards”), and set fire to newspaper boxes, traffic cones, and other debris in the street.
Squads of armored officers from the police bureau and sheriff’s office donned gas masks, set off grenades, shot “pepper balls,” and swept the streets of protesters, onlookers, and journalists before eventually arresting 25 people.
“In Portland we respect peaceful protest, but we do not and cannot support acts of violence and vandalism,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said in a statement Tuesday morning. “That’s not political speech. That’s a crime.”
Wheeler, who said the PPB did “a tremendous job under very dangerous circumstances,” wrote that the clash “was another chapter in a story that has become all to [sic] familiar in Portland: protests that begin peacefully but devolve quickly due to the actions of those whose only desire is to damage people and property.”
Monday marked the largest May Day event in Portland in years—no doubt fueled by still-raging anger at Trump’s presidency, but also by recent police responses to demonstrations. The “anarchist” gathering on Monday had been planned for a while, with an online flier circulating since at least March.
“THIS IS OUR TIME,” the flier read. “TO LOVE TO MOURN TO RESIST. THIS MAY DAY WE FIGHT BACK FOR THE EARTH, FOR OUR FRIENDS AND FOR OUR DIGNITY. WEAR BLACK.”
Three of 25 people arrested Monday—two were 17 years old, and one 14—were booked on felony riot charges. The rest aren’t accused of vandalism or violence—at least not yet. Most face charges of second-degree disorderly conduct, a count that rarely sticks for demonstrators, but is often used by police to clear the street. Two people were booked additionally on a charge of interfering with a peace officer, also known as IPO.
That could prove interesting. Monday’s protest was the first major demonstration since the Oregon Supreme Court neutered the way police have frequently used the IPO charge, ruling that “passive resistance” (not physically resisting or running away) isn’t grounds for arrest under that law.
It was clear, though, that not all Portland police officers were aware of the ruling.
In trying to dissuade the Mercury from photographing arrests near City Hall, one officer said, “If I say you have to do something, you have to do it. That’s the way it is. I can arrest you right now for IPO if you don’t leave the block.”
The Portland May Day Coalition, which organized the march and secured the permit from the city, criticized the police response. The group said on Facebook that the PPB lied about Molotov cocktails being thrown, came into the crowd unnecessarily, and “arbitrarily” revoked the march permit.
“There will be a lot of articles about the ‘march turning violent,’ the group wrote on Facebook, “but make no mistake, the PPB attacked a permitted march whose only goal was to keep moving along its planned route because some noisemakers and name-calling were enough of an excuse for them to use their large surplus of explosives and chemical weapons against those who had committed to rise, resist, and unite against fascism and capitalism.” (The Mercury witnessed some projectiles being launched at police prior to the march’s cancellation.)
If recent history is any indication, the district attorney’s office likely won’t prosecute a good chunk of the disorderly conduct charges against demonstrators who don’t have extensive records. Most will probably receive traffic tickets for being in the street after the permit revocation. The police will comb through video footage to try to identify black-masked vandals, they’ll post screenshots online and ask you to help identify them; a few will be charged with felonies.
And, later, there will be more protests.***