Two weeks ago, police arrived at a small house party in inner Northeast Portland. After initial heated words, a fight between responding officer Sgt. Fort and a party-goer broke out. It remains unclear who threw the first punch and who was acting in self-defense; but by night's end, three party-goers were arrested for felony riot charges. Even more shocking, Bjorn Einertsen faces felony charges for kidnapping Sgt. Fort and a nine-year prison sentence. Einertsen is a cook at Chez What? who acquaintances describe as mild-mannered.
In the days following, the event has emerged as a seminal moment that some think shows exactly how far the police have departed from their Andy Griffith-style of policing and towards Gestapo tactics of surveillance, harassment, and intimidation. Several activists believe their houses are being monitored by undercover officers and others are claiming they have been followed.
"There is a definite air of Martial law," claimed one activist. Only two weeks earlier, he had been pulled over for an alleged DUI. The police, he claims, followed him for two miles from the Jockey Club in Northeast Portland. The man pointed out that the Jockey Club is a local hangout for some of the city's self-acclaimed anarchists and, at times, has been where informal activist meetings have been held. He was sober at the time.
One of the club's owners admitted that police have stepped up patrols in the neighborhood; but, he said, one officer explained that those were in response to two recent shootings along Killingsworth, just a few blocks to the east.
Real or imagined paranoia, the relationship between police and activists is like any other; its quality and character is based as much on perceptions as reality. Many activists worry that the recent step-up in surveillance--real or imagined--is not only part of a trend that began a year ago when Mark Kroeker was hired as the city's new police chief, but also as means to intimidate activists from protesting at this year's May Day activities.
"It is the kind of thing where the police try to quell more political activism," said another activist, "and instead it just becomes a new problem and new reason to protest and get violent."