June 2 was the first day a group of graduate students from Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) set up a pop-up canopy and table in Chapman Square and offered first-aid, snacks, and respite to protesting Portlanders. Since then, the volunteers have doled out ice packs to people injured by rubber bullets, goggles for people prepared for tear gas, and face masks to keep protesters safe during a pandemic. Most of the items had been donated by fellow students, faculty, and members of the public—with OHSU sponsoring the table and tent later on.
The OHSU group has also watched Portland police officers' shifting response to the nightly demonstrations. That's why on Saturday, June 13, volunteers Micheal Martinez and Adrian Baris were expecting a relatively low-key evening. The night had been preceded by evenings with little officer presence behind the fence that had been erected between protesters and the Multnomah County Justice Center—and, in Martinez's words, "Police had stopped attacking entire crowds, just individual people later in the night."
That changed Saturday. By the end of the night, Martinez was in jail, Baris was rattled from being shoved by the police, and all of their donated items had been confiscated by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).
Their story of unwarranted abuse and arrest by police officers is just one of many anecdotes we've heard from non-violent Portlanders who've attended the nightly demonstrations. But for the students, and administrators at OHSU who support their work, it only adds to the growing concerns around police abuse of power in Portland.
"It's clear the community needs us. I've seen severe use of force while working out there. I've seen infants get tear gassed, people shot with rubber bullets, people walking away who were arrested."— Micheal Martinez, OHSU graduate student
The encounter began around 10:40 pm, when the group heard the initial announcement from a Portland Police Bureau (PPB) loudspeaker, declaring the protest unlawful and ordering everyone to disperse. Baris, Martinez, and other volunteers began to break down their tent and start packing up supplies. No less than five minutes later, they looked up to see a line of officers—clad in all-black armor and carrying black batons—swiftly marching towards them.
"The officers were yelling at us to leave everything and disperse," said Martinez. But the group didn't want to abandon the donated items—especially the tent, table, and banner borrowed from OHSU—and asked the officers for a few more minutes. That's when Martinez was put in handcuffs. He was told he was under arrest for interfering with a police officer.
"When I saw Mike being arrested, I froze," said Baris. "It was shocking. But then officers started just pushing me away, out of the park. They said, 'Don't worry, your stuff will still be here later."
Five hours later, only after PPB had chased protesters out of downtown Portland with flashbang grenades, rubber bullets, pepper balls, and clouds of smoke, Baris returned with Michelle Ozaki, another OHSU graduate student, to find only a pile of trash where their tent had stood. When they asked officers stationed nearby where they could find their items, they were met with what Ozaki said was "belittling comments."
"They said things like, 'You knew what the risk was coming out here,' and, “You should have been prepared for theft,'" Ozaki recalled. "It's funny, because they were the ones who had stolen from us."
Martinez was released from jail at 5:30 am, after being bailed out by the donation-based PDX Protest Bail Fund. His phone had been confiscated. Later that day, an OHSU faculty member visited PPB's Central Precinct to collect the university's tent, table, and other missing property. Only some of the items were returned.
A spokesperson for PPB was not able to comment on the arrest Tuesday.
The students say OHSU administrators have steadfastly supported the group of volunteers, and are investigating the incident.
“OHSU firmly stands with communities calling for an end to the trauma and anguish people of color are suffering as a result of systemic bias and discrimination," said George Mejicano, the senior associate dean for OHSU, in a statement set to the Mercury. "We fully recognize the important role our students, faculty, residents and staff play as members of the broader community and support their right to be involved in civic and community activities. We are a community of healers and fully support our members providing medical aid to the community and engaging in nonviolent demonstrations."
Mejicano added: "Although we cannot comment on the specifics of the case, [Martinez] and his attorney are working to resolve this matter in a just manner. We applaud and support Michael’s effort to serve our community during these tumultuous times."
On Tuesday morning, the Oregon AFSCME Council 75, which represents OHSU graduate students, released a statement condemning the PPB's abuse and theft.
The students said the experience hasn't deterred their volunteer work. If anything, it's only further given them a reason to continue showing up to protect people who don't have a powerful institution like OHSU to back them up.
"Police use arrest to inflict intimidation," said Martinez. "I will not bend to that. It's clear the community needs us. I've seen severe use of force while working out there. I've seen infants get tear gassed, people shot with rubber bullets, people walking away who were arrested. I’ve seen individual policeman showing no remorse and, honestly, a fair amount of glee about what they're doing. Police play far too great of a role towards the problems in our city."
Baris and Martinez said they are planning on finishing their term papers while volunteering during the protests this week. For them, it's not worth skipping a night of critical work.
"The only thing that's made me feel unsafe while I'm down there is the police," said Baris. "And the only thing that’s made me feel safe is the community. That should tell us where our resources as a city need to go. Where they’re going right now is fundamentally wrong."