Members of Pop Mob hand out milkshakes from a UHaul on June 29.
Members of Pop Mob hand out milkshakes from a UHaul on June 29. Alex Zielinski

The City of Portland has dismissed an activist group's accusation that the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) engaged in defamation during a June 29 protest.

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In a July 19 letter from Portland City Attorney Tracey Reeve to Popular Mobilization (Pop Mob), a left-wing group that distributed milkshakes during the contentious June protest, Reeve defends the PPB's right to publish a tweet suggesting that these milkshakes contained quick-drying cement—despite having no proof this actually happened.

"PPB's decision to provide generalized information to the public about a possible safety risk as soon as that information became available... does not give rise to a defamation claim," Reeve writes. Reeve is specifically responding to a letter sent by Juan Carlos Chavez, an attorney representing Pop Mob, accusing the city of defaming the group.

Here's the tweet in question:

Pop Mob distributed nearly 800 vegan milkshakes during the protest, many of which were consumed (and, later, used as projectiles) by dozens of fellow activists. No one who drank the milkshakes reported symptoms that could be attributed to ingesting cement. And yet, the police bureau's media team heard from one PPB lieutenant on the ground that the milkshake contents smelled and looked like quick-drying cement. So, they tweeted it.

The tweet, which has since accumulated nearly 14,000 retweets, was quickly picked up by mainstream media outlets and reported as fact. Pop Mob quickly became a national target for threats of violence, including murder.

In Pop Mob's initial letter to the city, sent on July 15, Chavez cites Oregon's public retraction law, which gives someone accused of defamation two weeks to retract and correct their statement. The group also asked Mayor Ted Wheeler and the PPB to formally retract the tweet and send a "letter of regret released to as broad an audience as the original misinformation reached."

Reeve rejected that the tweet was libelous because it doesn't mention Pop Mob by name.

"It is important to note that at no time did PPB allege misbehavior or wrongdoing by any identified individual or group," she wrote. "The tweet in question referred to only 'some of the milkshakes being thrown today,' and neither stated nor implied that the [milkshakes]... distributed by Pop Mob contained cement."

There was only one group—Pop Mob—handing out milkshakes on June 29. In a defamation case, a plaintiff must show that a "reasonable person" would understand that the statement was referring to them.

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Unless the city attorney's office changes its course, Pop Mob still intends to file a tort claim against the city for libel.

PPB says it is still investigating whether or not the lieutenant's cement claims are true. According to Pop Mob spokesperson Effie Baum, no one from the police bureau had contacted their group.

In the July 19 letter, Reeve encouraged Pop Mob members who've received threats to report them to PPB. Earlier this week, Baum told the Mercury that won't be happening. "They are clearly not concerned with our safety," they said. "How could we trust them?"