Beyond The Barricade: Black Unity’s Thurston Protest Two Years Later

Editor’s Note: DSM’s Robert Scherle is on Black Unity’s Board of Directors. He did not participate in this article in any capacity. Photos credited to him were taken prior to joining DSM.

Two years ago, peaceful protesters led by Black Unity began a march—just like any other—in the Thurston-area of Springfield, Oregon. Not long after the march began, the protest was met with violence by both the Springfield Police Department and far-right counter-protesters. 

A black-and-white photograph of five men, two of which are holding American Flags (one of them much older version) standing next to a Springfield Police Department cruiser. One man has his arm leaning against the vehicle and is in the middle of a conversation with an officer in the passenger seat who is looking up at him.
Counter-protesters that would later turn violent towards Black Lives Matter protesters have a comfortable chat with officers with the Springfield Police Department on July 29, 2020. [Robert Scherle]
Right-wing counter-protesters became more violent as Black Unity’s protest returned to Jesse Maine Memorial Park on July 29, 2020. [James Croxton]

The protest was reported at-length by the Daily Emerald and in DSM’s “Eugene Rising: Part VII.” 

A black-and-white photo of dozens of people scattered on the grass of Jesse Maine Memorial Park in Springfield. In the center of the photo is a large tree.
Dozens of protesters gather at Jesse Maine Memorial Park prior to Black Unity’s march on July 29, 2020. [Robert Scherle]

Here’s a look at what has happened since. 

Black Unity and the Civil Liberties Defense Center File Lawsuit Against SPD

On March 8, 2021, Black Unity and the Civil Liberties Defense Center filed a lawsuit against SPD for both excessive force against protesters and collusion with far-right counter-protesters. As reported by DSM, the city, its police department, and more than 20 individual officers—including the then-chief, three lieutenants, and three sergeants—were named as defendants in the lawsuit. 

Springfield Releases It’s Independent Assessment of the Police Department’s Response

Later that same month, on March 26, the City of Springfield released the findings of Rick Braziel’s independent assessment of the police department’s response to the Thurston protest. 

In that report, it was highlighted that—for some, mysterious reason—the department’s radio channel communications from that day weren’t recorded. According to the report, this “blackout” in recordings lasted from March 24 through July 30, 2020 where, the day after the Thurston protest, it was mysteriously restored and in working order. 

Braziel also described several “recommendations” for the department moving forward. 

These included making sure that all officers not working covertly be properly identifiable, keeping protesters and counter-protesters apart, giving all officers SWAT-level training, and changing the heading on their operation plans from “people of Springfield” to “all people.” 

Black Unity and CLDC Amend Lawsuit

On August 20, 2021, Black Unity and the CLDC announced that they had amended their initial lawsuit which now alleges both unlawful surveillance and “arbitrary ‘unlawful assembly’ proclamations.” 

The claims of unlawful surveillance arose out of a recording of one of the defendants, Officer Joseph Burke, that revealed the department had been monitoring, and compiling, information on Black Unity and its leaders. The lawsuit also alleges that, without prior reasonable suspicion, officers within the department—listed as John Does—surveilled and collected information on family members of a Black Unity leader. 

The lawsuit also named the two “undercover” officers who surveilled the July 29 protest with their absurdly large cameras as Officer Kody Lane and Detective Robert Weaver — the latter of which was implicated in a departmental sex scandal the same year.

Lastly, the amended lawsuit alleged that the department declared an “unlawful assembly” based on officers’ “own personal political opinions and/or the degree in which they are offended by the opinions of protestors…” 

  • A black-and-white photo looking down on the street from a slightly higher vantage point. Parked in the street are three SPD vehichles. One is marked and facing the camera. The other two are unmarked and facing away. Spread out in-between the vehicles are roughly seven SPD officers wearing their riot helmets and holding batons.
  • A black-and-white photo showing the moment the police clashed with protesters. There are dozens on either side of a barricade that can't be seen anymore. One officer, without a helmet, is in the center of the photo putting his hand up and seemingly yelling something.

Final Black Unity Leader’s Case Dropped 

On June 23, 2022, nearly two years after she was arrested at the peaceful-turned-violent protest, Black Unity leader Jazmine Jourdan’s charges were dropped

According to the CLDC, it is their “understanding that Ms. Jourdan’s case was dismissed by the Court after the jury was sworn in because a necessary witness for the State, former Springfield police officer Durrant, declined to voluntarily appear.” 

Former Officer Durrant is still one of the defendants in the Black Unity-CLDC case against the department. 

The next day, one of the defendants in the Black Unity-CLDC case against the department—Officer Brian Bragg—was a part of the team sent by SPD at the request of the Eugene Police Department to aid the latter during a protest at Dove Medical Clinic in Eugene.

SPD Officer Bragg, himself, identified by the “380” on his helmet and name on his vest, jabbed the butt-end of his baton into the sternum of Amanda Becker-Henske, a local activist and medic with Street Medics Eugene. 

“SPD takes complaints of allegations of excessive force very seriously,” SPD’s Public Information Coordinator Zak Gosa-Lewis said in statement after the protest. “If allegations of misconduct are received from any community member the department investigates the complaint thoroughly.”

The Black Unity-CLDC Case Moving Forward

“Many civil rights cases resolve by way of a settlement agreement between the parties because that is a common mechanism to incorporate non-monetary demands into the litigation process,” CLDC executive director and senior attorney Lauren Regan said in a statement. “The Black Unity plaintiffs are attempting to reach a resolution that will mandate important structural and policy changes to improve who is hired in the first place, the culture of training, supervision and discipline within SPD over the long haul.”

Regan also said that the plaintiffs are “demanding that Springfield police prioritize public transparency and accountability — demonstrating that the department knows it needs to immediately systemically change is particularly important when the public’s trust in police has been shattered by widespread abuse of power and at least the appearance of racism and collusion with racist groups and individuals.”

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