Sunday, June 3 marked a day of violence in downtown Portland: Patriot Prayer came into town for a rally, and once counter protesters showed up, the streets of downtown were marred by brawls, shouting matches, and stupid posturing.
But in the mess, local and national media missed something important: This wasn't just a bloody Patriot Prayer v. Antifa mashup. In fact, those two raucous groups
had taken another peaceful rally hostage had drowned out an already-planned, peaceful rally.
Long before Antifa or Patriot Prayer decided to meet in downtown Portland on June 3, another group of activists had planned to hold an anti-police brutality rally in Chapman Square earlier in the day.
Organized by Empower Portland Alliance and Direct Action Alliance, the event was meant to commemorate the year anniversary of a protest in which more than 200 people were detained by the police for hours—a tactic that led the ACLU to sue the Portland Police Bureau.
Jenny Nickolaus, who works with Empower Portland Alliance, attended the anti-police brutality rally well before Patriot Prayer showed up.
According to Nickolaus, once Patriot Prayer saw the groups' event online, they planned their own rally, a march to bid farewell to a member moving back to American Samoa, to coincide. Which prompted local Antifa groups to plan a counter protest: "Call to Resist Patriot Prayer Bringing Nazis to Portland." Nickolaus believes Patriot Prayer's planning was intentional. “They didn’t mention ours at all, but they planned theirs about a week after we posted ours on social media.”
Co-opting leftist events is something Patriot Prayer is known for, she says. And Antifa often does the same by planning counter-protests whenever Patriot Prayer hosts rallies.
The police brutality protests was preceded by a silent meditation in Chapman Square, planned by the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. Kendall, a fellowship member who goes by one name, says the meditation provided a peaceful and safe atmosphere ahead of the rally. “Our hope is to be of benefit to the people who want to block harm," she says. "The Patriot Prayer people are in favor of causing harm."
Those who attended the police brutality protest say it was well organized and well attended—nearly 100 people, including families with children, came to hear the speakers. One of those speakers was Donna Hayes, the grandmother of police shooting victim Quanice Hayes.
“It was just many people testifying about their experiences with police brutality,” says Kendall. She says there was no police presence in the park during the peaceful rally, though she says a few Patriot Prayer members were there taking photos.
The rally ended at 3:30, right around the time Patriot Prayer—and the press—began to arrive.
“As soon as the Patriot Prayer people arrived, the energy changed," Kendall says. "It was very clear that they were looking for a fight and that’s why they were there.”
Kendall left when Patriot Prayer showed up, wanting to avoid the violence. “I was so disappointed in that because it was such a good rally," she says.
But Nickolaus stuck around. “The local media and the national media tend to have a 'if it bleeds, it leads mentality,'” she says. “I wish there was more attention drawn to the police brutality rally.”