On Monday, an estimated 2,000 protesters filled SW 3rd Ave, in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center and Mark Hatfield Federal Courthouse, spilling back into the two city parks, Chapman Square and Lownsdale Square. It was the 54th night of continuous protest against police brutality and civil unrest by Portlanders, in reaction to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
Over the weeks, the ongoing protests had transformed several times. Still about Black lives, and unified behind a chorus of "Black Lives Matter" chants that rolled out like thunder, the July 20th protest also drew crowds concerned about the presence of federal officers stationed within the city and their nightly use of tear gas and "less-lethal" munitions on protesters.
Responding to a pair of "Calling All Moms!" and "PDX Dads, Assemble!" flyers which spread on social media accounts that day, older Portlanders amplified the protest attendance—with self-identified moms wearing yellow and likewise self-identified dads in orange shirts and construction hazard vests.
Members of the Portland Protest Bureau, a local group of social justice organizers, spoke to the crowd from the Justice Center steps, which has functioned as an impromptu stage since Portland police removed the fence surrounding it last month.
Teal—an activist who was recently photographed by the New York Times in a iconic image with her fist raised—spoke through a bullhorn that was in no way loud enough to reach the back of the crowd, saying that seeing all the moms in yellow show up was healing something inside of her.
“This is some beautiful shit y’all,” Teal said, before realizing that her bullhorn needed new batteries.
“What size?” a dad from the crowd shouted. In a crowd full of handyman dad stereotypes, one could a imagine a limitless supply and variety of batteries.
The speakers held the crowd for speeches and testimonials from local organizers, protesters, and community leaders. Riot Ribs, the free food and resources tent in Lownsdale Park that recently endured and recovered from the city's forceful property seizure and arrest of its volunteers, sent people into the crowds with boxes of donated pizza because the lines at the tent were unusually long.
One particularly beautiful moment unfolded when speakers asked attendees to turn on their cell phone lights and hold them up. In a sea of electric light, the crowd sang "We Shall Overcome." Speakers on the steps stopped after the first verse, but encouraged the crowd to continue because the older protesters probably knew all the words by heart. They were right.
Speaker encourages everyone to put on their phone lights. It’s pretty, until I turn back and remember how many people are here. Then it’s astounding.
The crowd sings “We Shall Overcome.”
“That was some Glee shit right there!” a speaker says. pic.twitter.com/W3kBn75mwf
— Suzette Smith (@suzettesmith) July 21, 2020
Around 10:15 pm, the organizers announced it was time to march. They didn't want to go far, just to the murals decorating the Apple Store, but they wanted the crowds to feel the power of taking over the streets. The march moved thickly, reaching Pioneer Place around 11 pm, where protesters held their fists raised for a moment of silence that hung heavily on the large crowd. Then organizers and protesters called out the names of people lost to police violence in a cacophonous jumble of energy.
The crowds returned to Chapman and Lownsdale parks by 11:30 pm. Careful planning had kept a huge crowd of protesters out late on a Monday evening, and speakers pleaded with the crowd not to leave yet. They warned that the federal officers inside the courthouse routinely meted out violence and munitions, but stressed that with a big crowd everyone would be safer.
The industrial fencing—which surrounded the courthouse for most of the weekend—was gone. Protesters filled the building's portico, chanting and banging on the boarded-up doors and windows.
Around 12:20 am, the protesters succeeded in breaking some boards off, and an enormous cheer went up from the crowd. Within ten minutes, federal officers stormed up from the south and inside the courthouse, deploying CS gas (commonly known as tear gas) and firing waves of munitions and flash-bang grenades.
Protesters attempted to use a Hong Kong protest-style wall of umbrellas and homemade shields to hold SW Main, hunkering by the destroyed base of the Thompson Elk statue. Green laser lights reigned down and targeted groups behind the shield wall. They held for ten minutes or so before falling back. Many who had experience with the CS gas seemed calm or undeterred by it, as if they were adapting to the use. While flash bangs exploded, a protester yelled "they're just loud! All they are is loud!"
After recovering from the tear gas, protesters attempted to return to the parks, but were met with another wave of gas. They retreated again, but were back in the park by 1:30 am. By this time the moms and dads, in their yellow and orange, were gone. After protesters set a number of fires—trash cans, a tree, the doors of the courthouse—federal officers gassed and swept the park once more around 2:30 am. Ten minutes later, protesters reclaimed the park. The rest of the night passed with little incident.