Doug Brown

SECONDS AFTER someone lit the American flag on fire, it became clear: The group marching against perceived government oppression and the group celebrating a victory over perceived government oppression weren’t going to see eye-to-eye.

Words were yelled, fingers were pointed—and two very different movements that happened upon one another on a downtown Portland street corner had it out Friday afternoon.

Ardent supporters of the armed-to-the-teeth anti-federal government crew that took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon earlier this year had gathered for a triumphant barbecue.

  • A mini-confrontation between a Don't Shoot Portland supporter, left, and Bundy supporters, right
  • Doug Brown
  • Doug Brown

A day earlier, ringleader Ammon Bundy and six of his comrades were acquitted on all charges, after a long and contentious federal trial. The cookout drew honks of support, and even attracted a sympathetic juror who’d had a hand in the verdict.

“I was mentally prepared (to serve) another year,” said just-acquitted occupier David Fry, who was standing in nearby Lownsdale Square, holding a wood slab adorned with “NOT GUILTY” on one side and a bible verse (“I will tell you that God will avenge them speedily”) on the other. “When I heard ‘not guilty’ on Ammon Bundy, I was just so happy. At that point you know it’s going to be not guilty for everybody.... The whole jury thing was just divine intervention. It’s unheard of, it doesn’t happen very often.”

  • Acquitted occupier David Fry
  • Doug Brown

“It means a big change for the whole nation,” said Washington resident Scott Bannister. “The government is just out of control and it needs to be reigned in.”

Of course, the good feeling wasn’t universal. An hour earlier, Bundy supporters were met by several dozen demonstrators from Don’t Shoot Portland.

That group had already been planning to protest racial discrimination and the controversial new Portland police union contract, while calling for Mayor Charlie Hales to resign and drawing attention to activist Teressa Raiford’s write-in campaign for Multnomah County sheriff.

The federal acquittal added fuel to their complaints.

A white jury exonerating the mostly-white Bundy crew for a 41-day armed occupation of a government building is an example of unequal treatment, people from Don’t Shoot Portland said. They pointed to an October 12 incident in which protesters were physically booted out of City Hall while trying to voice displeasure with a new police union contract [“Cops and Black Lives Matter Protesters Clash Forcefully Outside of City Hall Over Police Union Contract,” Blogtown, Oct 12]. The activists were met with hordes of baton-wielding and pepper-spray-blasting riot cops in the streets.

“Would we have made it 40-something days inside City Hall?” asked Gregory McKelvey, a Don’t Shoot Portland organizer. “We didn’t make it two hours when we came to testify. If anybody has a question about what police disparity we have in our city, or in our state, or country, that’s a prime example. We never would have made it to trial, we would have been shot in that building.”

  • Don't Shoot Portland's Gregory McKelvey
  • Doug Brown

The Bundy verdict “doesn’t mean anything for black Americans or people of color in this country,” said Raiford, one of the group’s leaders. “We’re still gonna be persecuted for using our civil liberties.”

Raiford pointed out that, at the same time the armed Bundy crew was acquitted, unarmed protesters in North Dakota were facing down cops for opposing a proposed oil pipeline through the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

“That’s the answer, look at North Dakota,” she said. “They didn’t pull back the artillery and law enforcement because precedent was made in this court. They’re still there, people are still being arrested, people are still trying to figure out where their loved ones are.”

The tensions flared on Friday when Don’t Shoot Portland marched from Portland State University’s campus to the occupiers’ cookout in front of the federal courthouse.

The protesters burned a large American flag they said was given to them by a Bundy supporter. But the Bundy supporters became outraged, saying the flag was stolen from them. The groups yelled at each other. An apparently homeless person hanging out with Bundy supporters called one protester a racial slur.

  • Glenn Waco
  • Doug Brown

But what could have turned into mayhem instead sorted itself out. Don’t Shoot Portland members began chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” They staged a four-and-a-half minute “die-in” to draw attention to the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

  • A "die in" for Michael Brown
  • Doug Brown

And then they moved on, peacefully, leaving Bundy supporters to bask in the court victory without opposition. Don’t Shoot protestors walked through a block of traffic to get to City Hall, where they hoped to get Mayor Hales’ attention.

“Charlie resign now!” they chanted in unison.

  • Don't Shoot Portland walking to City Hall
  • Doug Brown
  • Calling for Mayor Charlie Hales to resign
  • Doug Brown
  • Gregory McKelvey in front of City Hall
  • Doug Brown
  • Micah Rhodes
  • Doug Brown