While at Portland’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility collecting spent munitions from the previous night with Dr. Juniper Simonis of the Chemical Weapons Research Consortium, an older white man on a bicycle rode up to the driveway, pulled out his cellphone, and started taking pictures.
After a few minutes he turned to me, looked down at my press credentials, and asked “Are you actually press? Or fake press? You know, no offense.” I cleared that up and we began talking about the damage to the facility.
But then he asked the question: Why are people still protesting?
The evening before
Beginning at 9 p.m., what began as a typical protest at ICE—a few dozen people and maybe a couple of rushes by agents with the Federal Protective Service—evolved into something much more.
Roman candles burst against the building and a flare was thrown over the gate onto federal property. Someone in black bloc even “parkoured” up a half-wall onto the top of the boarded-up entryway and covered a security camera with a traffic cone.
For fans of “The Office,” I can say that I definitely heard at least one person yell “parkour, parkour!”
Interestingly, the FPS appeared to try and “wait out” the protest. Contrary to most protests where they immediately speak through the loudspeakers that the facility is closed, they were silent.
This didn’t sit well with the crowd, and despite a teacher from the Cottonwood School next door coming out the night prior to request no provocation because it would be reopening the next day, the energy, or lack thereof from the FPS, escalated the protesters tactics.
As the pallet fire in the driveway grew larger, a banner was stapled across the closed doorway. Soon after, protesters in black bloc began disassembling a chain-link fence behind the building and further barricaded the doorway.
At 10:50 p.m., as wooden pallets were being added to the modest fire in the facility’s driveway, the FPS came on the loudspeaker for their first warning. The facility was closed.
Just over a half an hour later, what began as a separate small fire on the side of the entryway, turned into the entire side of it being engulfed.
ICE was on fire. Melting, in a sense.
The wooden boards of a doorway shook as agents tried to exit. Unsuccessful, they went across their driveway and out the side gate, running towards protesters and shooting both PepperBalls and FN 303 rounds. Dr. Simonis was struck in the forehead. Portland Police Bureau arrived shortly thereafter.
After pushing protesters back across the street, Portland Fire and Rescue arrived and helped put out the already mostly extinguished fires. Shortly thereafter, both PPB left and the agents retreated back inside.
Just before midnight, and after a protester had pulled several charred boards off the entryway and prying the door open, agents exited and used more projectiles. I was hit in the knee, attended by a medic, hobbled to my car, and left for the night.
Why are people still protesting?
Following nine-plus months of sustained protest, the reasons for why are lost on the much of the general public.
Simply put, these protests are a continuation of the protests that arose from the Trump administration’s handling of immigration and the outcry for images of countless children in cages covering themselves with foil blankets for warmth.
Despite what people think, not much has changed within the last three months of President Biden’s administration. To be fair, though, the number of migrants coming to the border has increased. But this not is due to the belief that entry into the United States will be easier under the new administration, but because there’s no solid plan from the administration on what to do with asylum seekers.
To counter this increase, the Biden administration reopened a surge facility in Texas that had been originally opened and then closed by the prior administration. Another facility is planned to open in Michigan.
An NPR article from March 18 revealed that in excess of 500 children spent at least 10 days in the detention centers that are run by Customs and Border Protection — in direct violation of federal law which states that minors can only be held up to 72 hours.
President Biden also campaigned on a pledge to reverse former President Trump’s orders saying, “There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration, No. 1.”
This was in August 2020. It is now April 2021 and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told employees that construction may continue to “plug” the gaps in between sections of wall.
On Tuesday, April 13, Judge Micaela Alvarez of the Texas Southern District Court further muddied the waters. That day, the judge—after several years of court battle—ruled that the federal government can claim eminent domain to seize Baudilia “Lilly” Cavazos Rodriguez and her two siblings’ land, approximately 70 acres, for the continued construction of the border wall.
The process to seize their land began in late 2019 and they believed, based on campaign promises, that the case would be dropped. Even the Department of Justice was taken by surprise. The DOJ, taking cue from Biden’s pledge—are you noticing a theme yet?—asked for continuances for pending cases.
On top of all of that, people are continuing to protest the ongoing excessive use of force and use of less-than-lethal munitions, including CS gas. This is especially the case at the South Waterfront ICE facility where the Cottonwood School of Civics and Science is right next door.
All these causes have resulted in nine-plus months of protests, countless deployments of chemical munitions and projectiles, and the school’s playground remains closed due to contaminated soils. Despite several pleas from the Cottonwood School Parents for a Chemical Weapon Free Neighborhood and public officials, the Department of Homeland Security has refused to reply, or cease their use of munitions.
If it’s not clear, the point is that we may have changed administrations but, regardless, practices are remaining the same. That is why people are protesting still.