After a night of intense protesting and a heavy police response in Northeast Portland, different groups are calling out what they see as senseless violence from both protesters and the Portland Police Bureau (PPB).
On Thursday night, a couple hundred protesters gathered outside PPB’s North Precinct. While most of the protesters were reportedly non-violent, a small group participated in looting and arson—including setting a fire near the North Precinct, according to PPB.
In response, PPB officers indiscriminately fired tear gas and other crowd control munitions into the crowds. From freelancer Tuck Woodstock:
On Friday afternoon, a group of Northeast Portland Black businesses owners—some of whom saw their buildings damaged during Thursday night’s demonstrations—spoke at a press conference organized by Mayor Ted Wheeler and PPB Chief Chuck Lovell. The entrepreneurs denounced the violence from the protesters. Tony Hopson, the president of Self Enhancement, Inc., called it “a distraction.”
Wheeler called the property destruction “unacceptable,” adding that “it will not be tolerated.” Lovell called the acts “reprehensible” and “evil.”
“Last night was, plainly and simply, about arson,” Wheeler added—a narrative that's being challenged by reporters who were present to document last night's events. “It was about destruction. It was about endangering lives. It’s blatant physical violence.”
Just hours before that event, members of Don’t Shoot PDX—a local group that advocates against police violence—held their own press conference in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Portland. The group recently filed a class-action lawsuit seeking to limit PPB’s use of tear gas, and released a report Friday detailing its myriad health impacts, which was co-authored by a neuroscientist from Oregon Health & Sciences University. From the report:
The use of tear gas as a weapon against peaceful protestors exacerbates existing systemic inequalities and prevents First Amendment right to free speech as well as peaceful assembly which is excessively cruel to the community. As of June 20th, 2020 there have been 24 consecutive days/nights of protests that have occurred in Portland, Oregon. In 17 out of 24 protest nights, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) used excessive force by employing tear gas, rubber bullets, and long-range acoustic devices targeted towards peaceful protestors. The unbalanced use of excessive force is seen from reports demonstrating the use of tear gas has been used at a higher rate within Black Lives Matter protests than white supremacy or Proud Boy marches.
Teressa Raiford, the founder of Don’t Shoot PDX, spoke about the harm caused by tear gas and other police weapons at the press conference.
“I’ve seen first-hand the amount of violence and aggravated assaults that are inflicted on Black-led organizations and the protesters that show up in solidarity with our movements,” Raiford said. “When this uprising started, we were in the middle of a pandemic where any attack on our respiratory systems would cause harm, and even death… There is an emotional and physical impact from the type of violence that is used aggressively against us when we stand up for our civil rights.”
Protests are expected to continue Friday night, marking 30 straight days of demonstrations in Portland following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.