On June 30, a rally organized by Washington alt-right group Patriot Prayer turned into a riot in which demonstrators and Antifa counter-protesters beat each other into a pulp, leaving one man with a fractured skull. Portland police expected the violence, issuing a public statement ahead of time declaring that there would be a significant police presence "due to past threats and acts of violence between these different groups, both locally and nationally."
And yet, both the city of Portland and the federal government issued permits to Patriot Prayer to hold its demonstration—Portland for the street march and the feds for the rally in the federally owned Terry D. Schrunk Plaza. When the rally became violent, the Portland Police Bureau declared it a riot and revoked the city's permit.
This decision has left many asking: Why do these government entities continue to sanction Patriot Prayer's violence?
After all, this isn't the first (or second, or third, or fourth) time a Patriot Prayer event has turned violent. And with each rally, Patriot Prayer's rationale has become less and less logical. The purpose of the Saturday, June 30 event—which brought in people from across the country, according to the Facebook event description—was to "promote freedom and courage" in the face of Antifa. It was a direct response to the violence that took place the last time the two groups met in Portland on June 3.
But, when it comes to the city or feds blocking permits to groups known to commit violent acts, the Constitution gets in the way. Asked why they've allowed Patriot Prayer to hold numerous rallies in downtown streets, the city points to a 1996 ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals—a case called Collins v. Jordan.
“We’re not allowed to make a decision on a permit based on past experience with the group in situations like this,” says Dylan Rivera, the spokesperson for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, which issued last week's permit. "The guidance we’ve received since the Collins v. Jordan case is that there can’t be any blanket bans on demonstrations.”
Collins v. Jordan was a landmark First Amendment case. The decision followed the 1992 acquittal of Los Angeles police officers who brutally beat Rodney King, spurring protests—some peaceful, some not—across major West Coast cities, including San Francisco. The day after those protests began, May 1, 1992, the mayor of San Francisco ordered the police to break up the local demonstrations.
But protesters who had organized an evening march refused to disperse, encouraging police to round up large groups of people and arrest them. That legally questionable tactic is called "kettling."
In Collins v. Jordan, the federal court determined that the mayor's order was an infringement on the protesters' First Amendment rights.
"The law is clear that First Amendment activity may not be banned simply because prior similar activity led to or involved instances of violence... Demonstrations can be expected when the government acts in highly controversial ways, or other events occur that excite or arouse the passions of the citizenry.... Some of these demonstrations may become violent," the decision reads.
So there you have it: Patriot Prayer is allowed to set up shop in downtown Portland, even though they have caused violence in the past and will probably continue to do so. Legal precedent requires it.