PDX Protest — Another Anniversary: Omnibus Edition
This is the entire four-part series of articles on the events of August 22nd, compiled into one post. If you’d rather read it in parts, look for the last four articles, or just follow these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
I’d never seen the Penumbra Kelley Building in person before. Saw hours of it on my phone, last summer. Whenever the protest wanted a night of police brutality that didn’t involve teargas, this Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office administrative building — nestled in the fairly posh Tabor neighborhood — was the location of choice.
It could have looked worse. The windows were all boarded, but it was clean plywood. No paint on the drive or sidewalk — no graffiti, no paint-balloon splatters. The K9 statue was encased in plywood painted tan to match the building’s trim. The worst of it was a couple anti-cop stickers on a lamp pole. You could tell the building had seen some shit, but it managed to look stately nonetheless.
It wasn’t until I walked in the cracked front door that I saw they hadn’t bothered to replace the glass behind the boards yet.
A lot of this summer has surprised me. It’s been far, far quieter than I expected. There were a few actions here and there, but it wasn’t the pick-up-where-we-left-off-and-rage-it-all-summer thing that I expected, and that indeed the very start of the summer hinted at. That, of course, leads me to wonder why. For as ultimately glad I am that the course of the summer isn’t what I predicted, it means I misunderstood something, and I’m not such a fan of that.
Perhaps a summer of beatings subdued more people than I expected it to. Or maybe the police’s hands-off approach adopted on the April 25th anniversary riot choked the ACAB fire down to a smolder. (Can’t throw water bottles at cops that aren’t there. There’s still a core who would love to burn down a precinct or twenty, but without the backing of a mob, it’s not really tenable.) Or perhaps other protests around the country pulled people away from Portland: the Thacker Pass lithium mine, Stop Line 3, the anti-trans shit outside Wi Spa in Los Angeles, planned parenthood in Salem, anti-mask/vaccine protests goddamned everywhere…
Maybe the social-media crackdown following January 6th went both ways. Maybe Biden’s presidency has stabilized the left as it was meant to. Maybe the FBI has upped their counterintelligence game.
Whatever the reason, from an anti-state perspective, summer 2021 in Portland has been fairly tame (if only by comparison, perhaps). If there were guerrilla anti-cop actions going on in the shadows, I never saw word of them.
What did slowly begin to emerge was civilian-on-civilian violence, often at right-wing protests. I’ve reported on a couple, I think. While the base intensity has been slow to ramp up, it definitely has been, and it definitely still is.
Which brings me to August 22nd…
The long lobby was dead. Magazine racks sat empty. Stickers on the floor guided me around a set of desolate tables, six feet at a time, to a desk where a cheery young guy with close-cropped hair and a casual white button-down waved me over from behind plexiglass. I wondered briefly whether he would be so friendly if I had been dressed like myself, rather than in this plain gray T-shirt and clean bluejeans.
“How are you, today?” he chirped.
“I’m alright,” I returned in kind. “How about you?”
“Not bad! Not bad! What can I do for you?”
“I’m here for a CHL appointment,” I admitted.
“Alrighty, your name?” he said as he opened a folder that was sitting on top of a stack of papers within immediate reach.
I gave it to him.
“There you are, awesome. Just have a seat and someone will call you by name probably closer to 11:00.”
“Great, thanks!” I gave him a smile from behind my mask, took a seat, and researched the legality of taking pictures inside a police building.
I’ve put this off for so long.
I didn’t even follow this as it was happening. I was busy shoving hundreds of dollars of other people’s drugs into my body through three orifices. Four, if you count both nostrils. Instead I came back days after the fact and poured through no fewer than six Twitter threads, seven news articles, and two press conferences, trying to piece together the most violent civilian clash in Portland that I’ve ever seen.
Even that was over a week ago — long enough that I can’t remember the narrative road I was going to take through the chaos — and there were so many details that I can’t remember any of them. Even my notes are barely any help at all.
But I can’t say nothing. And I know that. And if you’ve already heard how the day ended, then you know it too.
We’ll see what I can dredge up from the mess of sentence fragments and urls I left myself.
One year prior, on August 22nd 2020, hundreds of right-wing demonstrators gathered on the steps of the Justice Center for a Back-the-Blue flag wave. Hundreds of leftists (who had been protesting nightly for weeks anyway) gathered in Chapman Park across the street in counterprotest. The opposed fronts met in the street and waged an hour-long brawl with melee, paintballs, and bear mace. Robert Evans had his hand broken. Laura Jedeed rode the Snack Van like a cowpoke on a Q-pilled bronco. Alan Swinney aimed a revolver at a crowd of people, finger inside the trigger guard, ready to destroy (according to the fundamental rules of firearm safety) you know, whoever. A Patriot Prayer supporter was shot to death by an antifascist in front of a parking garage.
It was no coincidence, then, that August 22, 2021 was chosen for this year’s big right-wing gathering downtown. I’m not sure who organized it. In execution, it seemed to be led by Proud Boys, who also made up a sizable portion of the attendees. Probably a fair number of Patriot Prayer as well. Maybe even some folks who would not approve of the violence to follow. (It’s a nice thought, anyway.)
This downtown event had been planned for a while. I hear it started with a different name, but at some point it was renamed to the Summer of Love rally. Nobody on the left bought it. I’m not sure if anyone on the right did either. Regardless, the advance notice gave antifascists plenty of time to get the word out and congeal into a counterprotest, and once again, hundreds of antifascists of all stripes gathered in opposition.
It was a diverse crowd. A lot of black bloc, obviously, but a lot of people not in bloc, too. The atmosphere was festive. A couple people in inflatable unicorn suits danced to the Frontline Drumline while someone in bloc rapped freesyle through a portable speaker. Another somebody drove an expensive-looking RC car around the street with skill.
It was the third time that month I’d seen high-quality RC cars being driven around — a thing I don’t remember having seen in Portland before, really. It brought to mind the increase in street racing that’s been so pronounced over the past year, especially as this RC car spun donuts and drifted through turns. There was one car I spotted at the protests a lot last summer: a white sports car with LED ground lighting, often at the head of a march. And so I’ve long wondered about any overlap between ACAB protesters and illegal street racers. Opportunistic racing while the cops are distracted by a protest makes plenty of sense, but so does street racing to lure cops away from the protest and spread them thin. And one of the very very early nights ended, according to an exasperated officer during a press conference, with people driving around in sports cars throwing fireworks at them. This RC car being driven with such competence only rekindled my wondering.
The story goes that when the far right heard about the numbers that had gathered downtown to oppose them, they relocated the gathering to a sprawling parking lot at a defunct K-Mart far to the east, on the north edge of Portland at 122nd and Sandy, in the Parkrose neighborhood — a currently (if not historically) Black neighborhood.
There was disagreement on the waterfront as to what to do. Some wanted to take the win and go home. We showed up in force, they would say, and kept them from gathering downtown. Mission accomplished. Others wanted to go confront them in Parkrose, too. At least one person got quite angry about it. “It doesn’t matter where the Proud Boys are!” they ranted. “We’re antifascists! We go where they go! We go where they go! That is literally our movement statement!”
And, well, if we were to talk specifically about the slice of antifascists willing to engage in violence — antifa themselves — this person would not be wrong. “We go where they go” has been the ethos of militant antifascism since at least the 90s. The purpose of antifa has always been to show up in numbers to oppose fascists wherever they gather, with the willingness to be violent if necessary for community defense, but to never themselves be the instigators of said violence. It… doesn’t always work out this way in practice, but that’s the idea.
The angry person didn’t get, like, a rousing cheer, or even polite applause, but they successfully stirred the mood and fired enough people up that a bunch of black bloc got in vehicles and headed east to confront the far right.
At K-Mart, shit was a little weird. They’d brought a trailer covered in what looked like astroturf to use as a stage, with a huge US flag as a backdrop. A six-foot mockup of the Statue of Liberty stood to one side, and a US flag with a peace sign replacing the 50 stars flew from the other. A cluster of people gathered at the stage, listening to speeches while a similar number of men in tactical gear stood scattered throughout the parking lot with paintball guns, the yellow and black clothing peeking out from behind body armor identifying them as Proud Boys. A banner had been hung above the entrance to the old K-Mart that read “Free our political prisoners,” referring to those who have been arrested in the aftermath of January 6th.
I don’t think I ever found full video of the far-right speeches, but there was at least one snippet of Proud-Boy strongman “Tiny” Toese (who has been in and out of jail for being violent at protests). “Why lie?” he asked, addressing a hypothetical trans woman entering a women’s bathroom. “Just say you identify as a pervert.” He looked back and forth across the crowd. “But guess what? If you wanna identify as a woman and go in there, I’mma follow you in there as a woman, too. Then I’ll whoop your ass.” Not sure if this violent pervert saw the recursive problem with her argument, but I’m not sure if anyone in the crowd did, either.
Tiny’s wasn’t the only speech, but it’s the only one I’m able to find details of in my tangle of reference material. Meanwhile, antifa was beginning trickle in.
I’m not sure exactly what kicked off the violence. Far as I can tell it had something to do with a decommissioned Metro West van full of black bloc. My best guess would be that it had entered the parking lot, Proud Boys opened paintball fire, and the van’s occupants bailed while the vehicle was still in motion, leaving it to crash into a shrub. While I doubt the driver was trying to run down a PB, it wouldn’t surprise me if they were driving intensely, and it wouldn’t surprise me if PBs got jumpy.
Whatever sparked the violence, Proud Boys rushed the now-empty van and smashed its windows out. Others advanced in a scatter, firing a torrent of paintballs at the cluster of bloc who were beginning to form up. What followed was a half-hour roving street battle between antifa and what was probably just Proud Boys at this point.
The bloc retreated under constant paintball fire, packed up in the same sort of formation they would use against the cops. Shields, umbrellas, you know the drill. It was an interesting contrast to the Proud Boys’ loose lack of formation, but, whether intentional or not, being so widely spread was the right tactical counter to the fireworks the bloc was throwing at them, and the tight cluster was the right way to defend your grenadiers against suppressing paintball fire. What I saw, though, was the battle always moving that one direction: PBs advancing and the bloc retreating. And from the mood of the PBs, you could tell they saw themselves as winning.
“I love this shit!” one shouted. “Fuck Antifa!” chants abounded, with a passion that led me to wonder if the Proud Boys are really much of anything besides antiAntifa at this point.
Probably the scariest part was as the battle passed a Chevron. Seeing fireworks go off next to a gas pump… man… that could have gone so, so bad so, so fast.
It’s hard to put together the exact timing and sequence of everything, despite probably having enough footage from various sources to do so. I know there were two waves of violence. It looks like the first pushed south, past the Chevron, across Skidmore, past a 7-Eleven, US Bank, up to about the post office. I think that it was during this lull when someone in bloc assaulted indie journalist Maranie Staab.
But I’ll get back to that.
The second push appeared to be to the west on Skidmore. Which suggests that the PBs regrouped on Skidmore, to the east of where the first push had been. Which almost suggests the intent to flank the bloc as they returned up 122nd. Not that they could go unnoticed to spring an ambush or anything, but — yeah, I just don’t know. Regardless, the fight landed in the parking lot of Parkrose High School, where PBs beat the ever-loving shit out of a man and his truck.
But I’ll get back to that.
Let it not be thought that the far right does not assault journalists. They do. Especially radical leftist “fake” journalists.
Do we have that understood and out of the way? Good. Cuz what people in bloc did to Staab was fucking disgusting, and it needs talked about.
It was all about being filmed. Bloc hates being filmed. It’s been a point of contention for a long, long time, and it’s not the first time bloc has smashed a journalist’s camera. Hell, it’s not the first time bloc has assaulted a sympathetic journalist, either. Remember when they thought Justin Yau was Andy Ngo?
Video shows one person in bloc come up to a cluster of press, swiping unsuccessfully at a woman’s phone. “I’ll smash all your cameras and phones, fuck you. Get the fuck out. Get the fuck out.” He turns to Staab who stands defiantly, refusing to back down. “Get the fuck out, [cata]!”
I’m not at all sure about that last word. Phonetically, “cata” is the best I can come up with. One source wrote it as “cutta,” perhaps short for “cutter,” though I’ve only ever seen that word used that way in the video game Planescape, so I’m pretty skeptical. Maranie reported in an interview that she was told it was “cota,” meaning “dog,” but I can’t find any corroboration of that translation. There is the Catahoula Leopard Dog, named after a Louisiana parish, and there’s the Bully Kutta, a breed popular on the Indian Subcontinent, but neither seems likely to have been the meaning.
The only other idea I’ve come up with is that the guy mistook her for The Oregonian’s Cata Gaitán. Except that he immediately railed at Staab for traveling to Colombia and “opening them up to COVID.” Staab did indeed travel to Colombia in June to report on protests there, and I’m not finding anything about Gaitán doing similar, so the guy seemed to know who he was yelling at. Maybe he just dropped the wrong name in the heat of the moment? I dunno.
The guy in bloc turned around and marched back to the rest. Staab, for some fuckin’ reason, followed. A couple of bloc were milling around with kitchen fire extinguishers, which I’d never noticed before. Not sure if they were meant as weapons or to put out any brush fires started by their fireworks. (As if the Proud Boys would let them get close.)
The camera cuts and jumps to a scene of Staab walking away from the bloc. Something white and chunky gets thrown generally at the press and sails past the camera. From the sound it made on landing, I’m guessing a paint balloon. The camera pulls left at the absolute worst time, bringing Staab out of frame just as something happens that throws her screaming to the ground. The whole press cluster rushes forward. The camera, of course, does not stay steady enough to tell what’s going on. There’s a couple snapping sounds I can’t identify. More paint balloons, maybe? “Go! How many times do we have to fucking tell you!” Sounded like the same voice as before. “We don’t want to harm her,” says a woman who sounds worried. “We’re not,” says a third voice as the camera refocuses on Staab — on her knees but crumpled toward the ground, hands against her eyes. Large purple splotches cover her formerly brown shirt. More paint? Witnesses say she also got maced, though I didn’t see it happen. Other press help her to her feet and give her support as she staggers away from a stew of profanity.
Camera cuts again, now a ways from the bloc, where someone is handing Staab a bottle of water. “Can you rinse your mouth out?” She pours it on her face instead. “Is there a medic in the crowd?” someone asks. Staab struggles to open her eyes. “I can’t see,” she says.
The camera pans left. The bloc is advancing, umbrellas attempting to hide faces that all look the same anyway. A fire extinguisher is on point. “You’re not gonna fuckin’ die,” a woman behind him derides.
“Fucking stop filming!” the guy on point shouts, rushing forward. The camera turns away in defense and a fire extinguisher is clearly heard. The press scrum rushes away and the clip ends.
Is this what antifascism looks like?
As mentioned, the second wave of violence pushed the bloc west down Skidmore, half a block south of the K-Mart. Press were amongst the Proud Boy scatter now, ironically safer there than near the bloc that had just assaulted one of them. This second push was almost indistinguishable from the first: the rhythmic chucking of paintball guns, the occasional crack and sizzle of a firework, shouting, swearing, “Fuck Antifa!”… It had gotten a little mundane to watch by this point, honestly.
The push ultimately led to Parkrose High School’s parking lot. A silver pickups’s car alarm was going off, triggered by Proud Boys smashing at it with baseball bats and axe handles. “He’s Antifa!” Tiny Toese shouted. “He’s Antifa! He’s Antifa!” More Proud Boys rushed the vehicle, tore the doors open, maced the shit out of the driver, fired paintballs inside, and beat him over the head with batons. One climbed in the bed and threw out cases of water that ruptured on the asphalt, the plastic bottles skittering across the lot. There was no rhyme or rhythm to it, just wanton destruction of person and property. “He’s Antifa! Fuck his shit up!” Truly no more than that. I‘m amazed the guy made it out of there alive.
In the aftermath, Tiny gave a speech to at least half a dozen cameras, his scalp, neck, and collar white with what I took to be paint. “To all those cops out there,” he said, voice cracking, “the moment you put that duty down, cuz of the orders from a tyrant,” (Ted Wheeler) “you’re a disgrace to that fuckin’ badge. Throw it down and fuckin’ walk out.” His Boys packed tightly around him, giving him manly, supportive pats on the shoulder. “I’m sick and tired, and if we have to die” he seemed to be gasping from the effort “to defend ourselves, our families, and our fucking freedom in America, we’re gonna do it.”
One of his Boys pushed into frame. “Hey Antifa! You fucked around and you found out today, baby!”
It was pure theatrics, done to fire up sympathetic people out there watching and push them past the point of doing nothing. Meant to radicalize. To recruit. To draw fed-up conservative young men out there in the street with them, fighting Antifa. (Or breaking into public schools at anti-mask protests, I guess?) He’s pretty good at the showmanship, to be honest. And that’s a bad thing.
“That’s a message to you, Antifa,” Tiny continued. “The Americans are coming out, and we’re sick of this shit. And if we have to fight fire with fire, we’re gonna fuckin’ do it. Fuck Antifa.”
“Fuck Antifa!” the crowd roared. “Fuck Antifa! Fuck Antifa!”
Tiny turned and led everyone back to the K-Mart.
“Fuck Antifa! Fuck Antifa! Fuck Antifa! Fuck Antifa!”
Along with a chant that, up to that point, I had only heard uttered by the left:
“Whose streets?” “Our streets!”
Someone new had arrived while I was waiting in the lobby for my name to be called. A little younger than me, a little bigger than me, wearing a lightweight plaid shirt buttoned most of the way up, untucked over a white t-shirt that hung just below the hem of the plaid. Clean hair, clean beard, clean shoes. Very Silicon Valley. He went through the same check-in process that I had and sat at the other end of the lobby and across from me, looking as nervous as I felt. Was he here for a CHL, too?
The door behind me opened, and I quickly swiped back to my phone’s home screen. Hadn’t found an answer to the question of photographing police stations. Just a whole lot of stuff about video recording officers, which brought to mind the odd and unexpected debate on the left over whether police body cameras are good for police accountability or bad for protester security.
I didn’t know how silly to feel over the panic swipe. Not like this lobby wasn’t under surveillance. How many cameras was I under at that moment? Were they able to see my phone screen? Could they zoom in with enough clarity to see what I was researching? Had they already?
“Alex?” a woman’s voice called out. No one answered. “Alex West?”
“Jason Gibbs?” she called. Still no response.
The tech bro raised his hand. She gestured him into the room she had come from. The door was left open. I could hear voices, but not words. Still didn’t know if it was for a CHL or not.
Michael left just five minutes later. The woman followed him into the lobby. Then she turned to me. “Are you here for a CHL appointment?”
That answered my question. “Yeah,” I said.
“What’s your name?”
I gave it. She checked a list, then made a mark with a pen.
“Come on in.”
High on Glorious Victory, the Proud boys et al. made for their vehicles. As they were gearing up to leave, a couple people in black showed up at the rim of the parking lot and were quickly fired on with paintball guns.
One man spoke up — a guy I had been seeing through all the videos, but hadn’t put a lot of thought into. He was carrying a huge sign — probably six feet a side — on a ten-foot pole.
HELL IS REAL
GIVE YOUR LIFE
“Hey stop shooting those people, man, that’s not Christian!” he said to a couple of Proud Boys. I wondered why he was waiting until now to say anything.
“It doesn’t matter,” someone stated. White sweatshirt with the classic republican elephant. No obvious Proud Boy colors or markings. Large guy. Would be imposing if not for the hunch indicative of a lifetime sitting in front of a computer.
“Dude, you don’t shoot people!” the street preacher insisted.
“It doesn’t matter, they’re terrorists!”
“What do you mean it doesn’t matter?” he cried.
“I don’t care! They’re terrorists!”
The preacher looked incredulous. I can’t tell for sure but it looks like he might have taken a paintball. He started to back off the way he came.
“Get over it!” the guy in white continued. “They’re terrorists!”
“Stop shooting people, man…”
“No! No! They’re terrorists! You have to shoot them!”
“That’s in the name of God?”
“It doesn’t matter!”
“You’re going to shoot those people in the name of God?”
The guy dipped his head, crunched his forehead, held clenched fists by his face like a child throwing a tantrum and screamed, “It doesn’t matter!! These are terrorists!!”
A new voice called from one of the pickups. “Let’s go! Time to go! Roll out!”
The guy in white tried to get a jab in over the roar of diesel engines. It sounded like “You’re a fool pussemen!” Like a portmanteau of “pussy” and “semen.” Yeah I don’t fuckin’ know. I’d totally believe that I’m mishearing him. I’d also totally believe that I’m not.
The preacher was left standing in the parking lot with the cluster of press, befuddled, lamenting, “They don’t stand for the Lord, man.”
The waterfront, meanwhile, had remained mostly peaceful, though a couple preachers similar to the guy at K-Mart got maced and heckled off. Crowd like that, you can’t really expect “Hitler could have been saved if he had repented” to go any other way.
Word arrived with paint-covered antifascists that the Proud Boys had left the K-Mart and were inbound. Things rapidly got tense. Barricades were built from construction detritus. Road signs were torn off for reinforcement. History textbooks were burned. Paintballs were fired into the air. A pile of bricks arrived. But the dreaded caravan never showed. The Proud Boys had headed across the other river, to Vancouver.
“Stolen people! Stolen land!”
“Black lives matter!”
Except maybe one guy — and this is where I’ve buried the lede. It’s hard to tell if this guy was a part of the Parkrose rally. And it’s hard to tell what led up to the confrontation. The closest I’ve managed is a claim that he had thrown slurs at antifascists, who then chased him off.
The first video I’ve found of the guy has him backing up, arms outstretched, pistol dangling from his right hand. Those in black following him hold handguns of their own. Shouts are thrown in both directions, and I can’t make out any of it.
And then the guy takes cover behind a trash can in front of Mod Pizza and opens fire.
And then someone in bloc fires back.
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 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 swings 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 with their bodies between the press and the arrest, in that intimidating pose that is simultaneously casual and ready to snap a neck. 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 floundering 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 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. So 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, dozens of two-foot-square shattered windowpanes.
I pulled out my phone and took a picture.