Political Issues

What’s Happening in Portland Right Now Should Frighten Every American

Erin Bunch

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Photo: Getty Images / Nathan Howard / Stringer

You may have seen the shocking images: a “wall of moms,” standing arm in arm, squaring off against what looks to be a military force; a naked woman in tree pose, staring down the same foe; and tear gas, lots and lots of tear gas. For months, daily protests in Portland, Oregon, spurred by the death of George Floyd have been met with exactly the type of excessive police force protestors are trying to stop.

In late June, things escalated when President Trump took exception to the protestors’ toppling of a George Washington statue. At that point, he sent in federal agents to reinforce local police—against the wishes of Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor. Trump took umbrage to statue-toppling more generally after protestors attempted to pull down a statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington, D.C. At that point, the president signed an executive order protecting such monuments. This order provided the federal government with cover to send troops into Portland.

President Trump contends that these protestors are not just normal protestors but rather organized anarchists (and therefore a more serious threat to the government of the United States). He’s portraying these cities as being under siege; however, the scope of Portland’s protests is about one city block (where the federal courthouse is located). Portland citizens can, in other words, go about their days unencumbered; the city is not, as Trump purports, being overrun by protestors and anarchists. And like Black Lives Matter protests all over the world, the Portland protests have been largely peaceful.

Still, an unwelcome federal presence has ramped up in recent weeks. Local reporters noted last week that protestors were being pulled off the street by unidentified agents in unmarked cars, raising alarms nationwide over the apparent lack of due process. And over the weekend, after protestors lit the Portland Police Association building on fire, police declared the protests to be a “riot.” (The fire was quickly put out.)

As force against them—from Portland police and federal agents—has grown, so have the protestors’ ranks. Most notably, mothers have joined in as a frontline defense, forming the so-called “wall of moms” seen protecting other protestors from cops. On Monday night, the protest swelled to thousands, including not only moms but a group of dads as well. These individuals—rallied to counter the anarchist narrative—have not been immune to the use of force, and some have been tear-gassed or otherwise assaulted by the federal agents.

Local authorities and civil rights organizations are attempting to protect the protestors from this government-sanctioned violence. The state of Oregon is now suing the federal government for violating protestors’ civil rights by detaining them without cause. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Oregon is also suing the federal government to prevent them from arresting, threatening arrest, or using force against journalists on the scene who have not committed crimes.

Many public officials have also condemned the president’s actions and are demanding to know the identity of the “secret police” Trump is deploying against his own citizens. Several senators have announced a bill aimed at stopping such tactics, deeming them “authoritarian” in nature. Meanwhile, a House bill currently in draft would require on-duty federal agents to display the name of the agency they work for as well as their own names.

In the meantime, violence only seems to be escalating as neither side shows sign of retreat. Trump plans to replicate this strategy in Chicago and other American cities, too, and therefore more violence is expected nationwide.

Even if these protests don’t touch your everyday life, what’s happening in Portland—and soon to be other cities—matters to every American; we maintain the right to peaceably assemble, according to the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. By violently attempting to quell protests and detaining citizens without cause, the government is setting a dangerous precedent. Some experts believe we’re on a slippery slope toward authoritarianism—a system of government that requires blind submission. What’s at risk is our right to fight for any number of issues moving forward, including civil rights, voting rights, and reproductive rights. Our right to due process under the law is also in peril.

While legislators, litigators, protestors (and moms!) work to thwart these troubling government actions, there are steps you can take to help—even if you live nowhere near Portland. To aid those on the ground, donate to the Portland General Defense Committee‘s GoFundMe, which covers bail and legal fees for protestors. Portland Action Medics, an organization offering medical assistance to protestors, is also accepting donations. To effect change from afar, contact your representatives and senators to voice support for investigations, proposed legislation, further action to stop the over-militarization of our communities. Our democracy is at stake. 

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