Another Anniversary, Part 4 of 4
This is a first, y’all.
Guns have been fired at protests before, by both sides, but this was the first time someone returned fire, turning this into more than just someone opening fire.
This was a straight-up gunfight.
The right-winger only got one shot off before his gun jammed. After clearing it, he couldn’t seem to get a clear enough shot to feel comfortable with, and he bailed after six rounds had come his direction. One final round chased after him.
No injuries. Eight shots, and not one of them landed. Bullet holes in the concrete under the windows of Mod Pizza and at least one parked car. Only three were photographed. Got no idea where the other five landed.
At this, the cops finally moved in. It was the first we’d seen of the cops all day. Both Ted Wheeler and police chief Chuck Lovell had said the cops would be taking a hands-off approach to the event, urging people to “choose love,” and not be violent. In Wheeler’s mind, this meant everyone at the event had chosen to endure violence, justifying his police’s lack of response. Nonetheless, the police were hovering close to both events, ready to move, in the case of a “life safety circumstance” (a bar that seems to have moved a great deal since last year).
The arrest is interesting to watch. It starts with two people — one in uniform and one in black street clothes — rushing across the street with guns drawn. “Get on the ground! Do it now!” One is aiming slightly above the guy who now lies prone on the sidewalk, and the other is aiming slightly below. Neither has a finger inside the trigger guard.
I have to assume the guy in street clothes is undercover. I can’t possibly imagine the police accepting the assistance of an armed antifascist without batting an eye.
The undercover is replaced by a uniform with a bright yellow taser in his left hand pointed directly at the shooter. “No one approach the gun!” says the cop with the gun to the gathered press, referring to the shooters weapon that lay on the sidewalk five feet away. “Stay thirty feet back!”
The taser cop was probably the pistol cop’s partner. It felt like a classic good-cop/bad-cop pairing. “Hey, I need everybody to step back. I accept your right to press, but I don’t want any of you involved in this or getting shot, okay?”
Nobody is sure what thirty feet looks like, but everyone takes a step back.
Taser cop gives the shooter instructions, his right hand hovering near his belt. “Alright, sir, what I want you to do is put your hands out like an airplane at your sides.” The shooter complies. The cop’s right hand relaxes and joins his left on the taser. “Face your palms toward the air.”
“Yes ma’am!” an onlooker heckles.
The shooter is unresponsive for a moment. I think he’s trying to figure out which direction to twist his arm, cuz he then tries one direction and finds his arms incapable, and in a flash he twists them the other way to get his palms skyward.
“Alright, cross your ankles.” He does. “We’re gonna keep you here for a minute; we have more cops coming, we’re going to take you into custody. If you reach for anything, we will-“ and the rest is drowned out by approaching sirens. A female cop arrives and puts on black rubber gloves. Two cruisers pull up and disgorge two more cops who, along with the woman, move in to make the arrest. “Crossing,” one tells Gun Cop, pushing his supporting arm downward. Gun Cop lowers his Gun. Taser Cop joins the three new cops, and they all move in with a clearly rehearsed maneuver while Gun Cop stands ready. Two cops grab the shooter’s wrists and pull them behind his back while one rushes around and kneels on his ankles. Taser Cop holsters. Further actions of the three are obscured by their bodies, but the flash of handcuffs can be seen. “Relax, you’re alright,” one says. Gun Cop relaxes and holsters, though it doesn’t seem like he was the one being talked to.
Both Weapon Cops circle around in front of the press to watch the arrest and glove up before collecting the firearm. Taser Cop can’t find his gloves, and Gun Cop offers him a pair.
Someone in bloc and a ballistic helmet approaches the arrest from the side opposite the press with his phone trained on them. He gets within ten feet before the cops notice. “Hey!” says the nearest arresting officer, standing and facing the new arrival. “I need you to back up, right now!” He puts his hand on the guys chest and backs him up firmly and steadily. The guy backs up and starts circling to grab more angles.
Gun cop whips around to check on the press cluster. He code switches into Good Cop and reaches out his arm, fingers upward, palm forward and downward. “Guys, thanks for staying back, I appreciate that.”
Taser cop turns, too. He reaches out his arm. (What is with cops and reaching out their arm when they’re talking?) “Hey if anyone was a witness to this original event, we’d like you to stand by here on the sidewalk so people can talk to you.” Yeah right.
The cop who had confronted the guy in bloc reaches his arm out and approaches three cameras that had gathered in the street. “Guys, I need you out of the street. If you’re going to be out here recording, that’s fine — over here,” his hand sweeps and points at the press cluster. They all comply. Could be a coincidence that the directed location has the most cops in the way of sight lines, but my doubts increased as more cops arrived and formed a miniature blockade, in that intimidating pose that is simultaneously casual and ready to snap a neck, between the press and the arrest with their bodies. The far side, where no cameras watched, was completely exposed.
By the book. Procedural perfection. An optical triumph.
Ted Wheeler seemed to think so, too — about the whole event. He released a statement the next day, citing “minimal” property damage, calling the violence contained to those who “chose to engage,” and claiming that the “communinity at large” and “broad public” were protected and unharmed. “The Portland Police Bureau and I mitigated confrontation between the two events and minimized the impact of the weekend’s events to Portlanders.”
One has to wonder if he was taking the mean average of the Portland population, because residents and workers in Parkrose didn’t feel protected, and they certainly weren’t psychologically unharmed. Willamette Week interviewed several people who were working at the nearby businesses during the street battle. Workers at the Chevron feared for their lives, should a firework get too close. Someone in the Wendy’s called it “an emergency situation” after someone sprayed mace inside. Employees at Yes Restaurant thought they’d heard a gunshot. “We felt so scared.” All three places closed early.
Wheeler is, in fact, the only person I’ve heard speak positively of the results. A lot of the community is upset that the cops didn’t stop the violence, the far right is upset that the cops are letting Antifa run unchecked, and antifascists are upset that the cops let the Proud Boys run unchecked. That last is a bit ironic, but it’s a perspective colored by their own brutal suppression last summer, seeing it as the cops playing favorites rather than the strategic desperation that I do.
In an incredible boon to my chronic procrastination, Wheeler put out another statement two weeks later, on September 8, where his tune had flipped completely. Amidst the defensiveness and self aggrandizing that characterizes every public statement I’ve ever seen Wheeler make, he admits that Chief Lovell’s approach to the 22nd “was not the right strategy.” “It’s clear the public wants something else,” he said in a zoom call. “The public doesn’t want an overwhelming police presence, nor do they want the appearance that the police are not going to get engaged.” He acknowledged acknowledged that police intervention can cause escalation, citing “things we’ve heard from the Department of Justice about police presence.” (I don’t know whether he’s talking about the Oregon DoJ or the federal, but I am dreadfully curious.) “We’re still trying to find the right recipe here.”
I find myself sympathetic to the challenge in an unexpected way. I super understand being scared to make enemies out of the Proud Boys. We’ve seen what they’re willing to do. They break into capitals and hunt politicians with spoken intent to kill. For all the graffiti encouraging similar, antifascists have never actually gone that far. Throughout government, white supremacists are agreed to be more dangerous than antifascists. There’s a certain logic to keeping the sights of right-wing pseudomilitias pointed somewhere else. Ideally, from Wheeler’s perspective, at another city entirely. He would like for nothing more than for the Proud Boys to get bored of Portland and not come back. He looks at the way that police uninvolvement has de-escalated conflict with antifa and he thinks, if only antifa would do the same with the Proud Boys.
But the Proud Boys know better. Unlike the police, the Proud Boys want that conflict. They want that fight. And they seem willing to escalate in order to get it. In which case a lack of response is, in the short term anyway, in fact escalating. Would they give up eventually? Probably. How how much escalation would it take before they gave up? What sacrifices would we have to make? How many lives would it cost?
It’s the question I keep running my face against time and time again: How do we ultimately de-escalate while immediately keeping people safe?
I still don’t have a good answer.
The room was small and painted a pale mustard color. Another woman stood behind a counter just inside the door to the right, behind a plexiglass screen. There was a space at the bottom of the screen for passing documents through. Without needing instruction, I pulled my drivers license, credit card, and handgun safety class certificate out of the folder I’d brought and passed them across the counter.
The woman who’d brought me in called me over in front of a screen to take my portrait. I wondered what style of terrible picture I would end up with this time. I’ll have to wait to find out, because when I approached the computer at her behest, the screen already showed a blank fingerprint card that would be populated from the scanner that sat next to it. She took the left four at once, then the right four, then rolling each individual finger in turn. The software automatically tracked the arches, loops, and whorls of each print, categorizing them and populating some database somewhere. One finger kept generating an error message. “Does not match Type 14.”
“Maybe we didn’t get a good 4-print on that side,” I suggested. She grunted and clicked “Use anyway.”
By the time fingerprinting was over, the woman at the desk was waiting for me with all my documents and a receipt for me to sign. “It’s taking about 90 days to get the licenses processed and into the mail,” she said. “It is not legal for you to carry until you have received that card.” She passed another document across — a notice of what she had just told me stapled to a pamphlet about suicide prevention.
And that was it. I guess I expected more. Some kind of interview. A screening process of some sort. But no, just check some documents, take my picture, my fingerprints, my money, and I was back in the empty lobby. The door shut behind me.
I turned toward the exit and only then finally saw, ten feet high, above the front-most wall of the lobby, in front of sheets of plywood, the dozens of two-foot-square shattered windowpanes.
I pulled out my phone and took a picture.