In full riot gear, the police look like giant beetles. They wear heavy black boots with toes covered in a plastic, unbendable casing. A separate piece of hard plastic wraps around their ankles. Heavily padded chest guards--just like umpires wear to protect themselves against 100-mph fastballs--cover their entire torso. They look larger than life because they are.
Downtown on Thursday, August 22, a shirtless protester saunters close to the front line and begins joking with them. "What are you scared of? You could break me!" He's as thin as piano wire; no body fat, just tofu-and-bean-fed, two of him wouldn't even weigh as much as one cop in full riot gear. The officers stand motionless. The only sign of human life are a pair of unblinking blue eyes staring back from behind a Plexiglas shield. "Shit," the protester says, "you guys are huuuuge."
An hour earlier, at 4:55 p.m., the police declared a "State of Emergency."
Police set up four barricades to quadrant off the Hilton Hotel where President George Bush was hosting a pricey fund-raiser for U.S. Senator Gordon Smith. Nearly 3000 protesters pressed up against the barricades along Fifth Avenue.
The smell of tear gas still tinged the air with a scent like vinegar. Crouched on their knees, about a dozen protesters looked like they were weeping. Friends pour water across their face to wash off the burning pepper spray and tear gas.
An hour earlier, in order to disperse crowds, pepper spray had been shot out of large canisters that looked like fire extinguishers. Near me, a father and an infant riding on his back had been pepper sprayed. The infant was as bright red as a ripe tomato. The dad was stoic.
When asked about the children who were pepper-sprayed, Henry Groepper, the police spokesperson, told a KATU reporter that parents should not bring kids to demonstrations. The police also pepper-sprayed a KATU reporter and cameraman.
Police also fired rubber bullets into the crowd. Later, in an interview with The Oregonian, Police Chief Mark Kroeker blamed the Beaverton police officers who had joined Portland officers throughout the afternoon. But, Kroeker added, "[rubber bullets] are very effective in crowd management."
Throughout the evening, the frontline changed. Around 6 p.m., a drum-and-fife band began banging their bass and snare drums, marching away from the barricade along Fifth Avenue. Falling into an impromptu rank-and-file, about 1000 protesters followed the marching band towards Pioneer Square. Like water flowing through the streets, they filled every open space. They washed around cars that had come to a standstill.
One protester pointed out a sharpshooter silhouetted on top of the Hilton. "I've counted ten," he notes.
Around 6:30 p.m., the roaming group of protesters filed down Park Avenue near the back corner of Schnitzer Hall. At the time, there were only two police in riot gear standing guard. But what was two police quickly turned into ten and then twenty.
Within three minutes, another battalion filed into the street, marching two-by-two, making it nearly 40 police in riot gear. The lead officer stopped and held his fist steady in the air and cops fanned out across the barricade.
Just as quickly, about 1000 protesters flowed into the empty street and gathered on the opposite side of the barricade. Earlier in the day, protesters had announced their grievances on signs and banners. There were complaints about Bush's environmental policy and about military aggression. But, at this point, most of the signs had disappeared. Now, the protesters were yelling. At some point, the protest began to turn away from a demonstration against President Bush and into a scrimmage with the police. One protester yelled, "Police, protect your honor, not the evil one."
Near the brick wall of Park Avenue Apartments, an older protester shouted through a bullhorn at the police. "Just lay down your arms," he yells. "C'mon, I know that many of you sympathize with us."
Then, without warning, an eerie calm settled throughout the crowd. Only one voice remained. The man yelling through his bullhorn. He seemed startled by the rapt attention, almost embarrassed. His voice faltered. "How can you protect this man?" he finally stuttered at the police.
It was then that a large delivery truck rolled backward, flanking the rows of police. On top of the truck was a bulky PA system. "A State of Emergency has been declared," a voice boomed. "Move now!"
There was a momentary pause before protesters began to step slowly backward and a line of black-clad police stepped forward heel-to-toe. Protesters doused bandanas in water and wrapped them around their mouths to protect against tear gas. Some wore swim goggles. An orange cone flew through the air and landed on top of an officer. A few sticks thrown from within the crowd shot into the air and landed at the feet of the police.
Along the scrimmage line between protesters and police, a spry man in a monkey mask shoved at the cops. As if he were as weightless as a ghost, two officers pushed the monkey-man back. His feet lifted from the ground and he floated back into the throng of protesters. "This is what democracy looks like," yelled a few protesters.
After a few minutes, the shoving dissipated and the crowd yelled, "our streets, our streets." For the next several hours, President Bush posed for photographs inside the Hilton. The fundraiser earned a reported $900,000 for Sen. Smith. Meanwhile, outside, the crowd slowly thinned. By nightfall, though, a few hundred protesters remain, standing vigil against the police line.