Local News & Events

Is the Portland Police Bureau Changing Its Approach to Street Protests?

Direct Action

An autonomous demonstration was scheduled to begin at Jamison Square in the Pearl District of Portland at 8 p.m. Instead, it was almost co-opted by a few older “liberals” who showed up with a sign asking for protesters’ stimulus checks since “they’re anti-capitalist.” The funds to be used for window repair. 

Getting co-opted would be the least of the protesters’ worries that night, though. 

Beginning to move around 9 p.m., the group of around 100-150 people moved north on NW 10th Ave. and were immediately followed in the rear by bicycle officers with the Portland Police Bureau.

Just as immediate as their appearance was their “egging-on” of protesters. 

“That was weak!” yelled one officer, after a protester threw a trash can into the street to slow down PPB.

The Kettle

After a right turn from NW Northrup St. onto NW 14th Ave., the crowd made a left on NW 15th Ave., and then one final left on NW Marshall St. Once there, PPB officers appeared in front and with the line of bike cops in the back, the crowd was kettled between NW 13th Ave. and NW 14th Ave. 

Kettling is a law enforcement tactic in which subjects are surrounded by a perimeter of officers and often end in mass arrests. 

Prior to being kettled, PPB did not declare an unlawful assembly or a riot. The only warning over the Long Range Acoustic Device, or LRAD, said that a permit wasn’t issued for the demonstration. 

“You are all being detained for the investigation of a crime,” said a voice over the LRAD after the crowd — including members of the press and legal observers — were kettled. “You are not free to leave. You must stay where you are and comply with officers’ orders.” 

The crime? A couple of broken windows. 

About 15 minutes later, PPB called for press and legal observers to leave. Many journalists, including myself, left to ensure that anything outside of the detainment zone was being documented — plenty were still inside, though many were, eventually, forcefully removed.

Outside The Kettle

Around 9:50 p.m., PPB expanded the detainment zone to the intersection of Marshall St. and 15th Ave. for the release process.

Protesters, journalists, and legal observers still within the detainment zone were escorted one-by-one and released at the intersection. Prior to being released, PPB wrote individuals’ full legal name and date of birth on duct tape, placed it on the chest, and a forensic photographer took pictures of faces, asking for masks to be removed.Many refused, citing COVID-19 concerns.

A few minutes later, two medics with PPB arrived, going past the police tape to attend to what was reported to be a very understandable panic attack. 

As the night progressed, those that had been released and those that came to support the protesters were mostly gathered outside the detainment zone at the intersection of Marshall St. and 13th Ave.

Half an hour before the night turned to Sunday morning, PPB rushed out from their riot line and targeted OC “pepper” spray towards a protester in front of the Safeway. 

One hour later, PPB rushed down Marshall St. and arrested a protester with a speaker — which would later be run over by a PPB cruiser and damaged.

By 12:30 a.m., approximately 25 of the 150-or-so people remained inside the detainment zone. Around this time, a young Black man, who had been in the zone and released, began an impassioned speech towards riot officers for this to end. He — sobbing and, again, understandably tired and traumatized, laid down on the street in front of officers, arm and fist in the air. 

Forty-five minutes later, after those remaining were arrested and transferred to the East Precinct, the riot line at 13th and Marshall grew larger. The officers looked towards the crowd with batons and munition launchers as cruisers repeatedly came by, picking up more officers. 

But they were delayed for a few minutes as at least one PPB cruiser had a dead battery, requiring a jump start.

Just after 1:20 a.m., a PPB van backed up towards the last of the riot line. Beginning to drive away with officers holding on, at least one bottle was thrown and additional OC spray was used.

We’ve Seen This in Eugene

This gathering of information was seen in Eugene after the May 29, 2020 riot — just at a much slower pace. 

Whether it was in-person with cruisers and undercovers or in the air with a drone, EPD consistently followed and surveilled protests throughout June and July — which, during the peak, was almost every day.

For better or worse, the Eugene Police took a less direct–or violent–approach to responding to last summer’s protests. Though there were certainly a few notable exceptions, EPD’s response to the protests was rarely to confront protesters and activists head-on.

Instead, they took a more long-term position and chose to build dossiers and evidence on various activists in order to crack down on dissent at a more opportune time.

Obviously, the EPD’s position is much more manageable, seeing as how the numbers in Eugene are considerably smaller than those in Portland. 

It is easier to perform surveillance on a crowd of 50 to 100 people than one that numbers in the thousands. Eugene is also a much smaller town, with much fewer places to hide out and lay low for those that do end up catching heat from the law.

But the strategy paid off for the EPD, if not necessarily right away. The still-ongoing arrests—beginning on Aug. 5—of those involved with the May riot came from diligent, patient surveillance of protesters and their patterns of behavior, rather than a mad dash to make a big media splash with mass arrests.

Whereas PPB—and the Federal Protective Service—have made a name for themselves as fascist stormtroopers in multiple layers of body armor, EPD has managed to toe the line and keep public opinion on their side while still working to repress the dissent seen throughout much of last year. 

This slow approach has effectively neutered dissent in Eugene, as it would appear that people are well aware of EPD’s ability and willingness to use surveillance to achieve their desired ends, rather than brute force.

Kettles are likely to happen more often in Portland

The day after the constitutionally questionable kettle; the Oregon Justice Resource Center; Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-Oregon; and the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon gave a statement calling on the United States Attorney General, Merrick Garland, to investigate PPB. 

“Today Portland wakes up again to an unaccountable Portland Police Bureau (PPB) who last night detained an entire city block of people for protesting on their own streets in their own city — and then, without lawful basis, required individuals to take off their COVID-19 protective face masks, be photographed, and to show identification before being permitted to leave.”

Two federal lawsuits regarding the use of the kettling during anti-Trump protests in Portland, from 2017, were either dismissed or recommended to be thrown out, further muddying the waters of its legality. 

Regarding the lawsuits, for which the Oregon Justice Resource Center and ACLU are representing, the recent statement states:

“In neither case has the court approved of or found constitutional this abusive tactic. While the courts determined qualified immunity shielded officers from accountability for their actions in 2017, the court did not greenlight the tactic for use.”

On Monday, March 15, Portland’s mayor and police commissioner, Ted Wheeler, defended PPB’s use of kettling the previous Friday. He then gave a glimpse into the future of Portland protests when he said he “absolutely supports the Portland Police using kettling as a tactic moving forward at protests.”

Kettling will, most likely, become a regular tactic used by PPB to quell protests and identify those participating. Surely, they already had files on individuals, but now, after Friday, they have at least 100 more. 

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