• Katie Delk

What’s Happening In Portland?

As the fight for Black Lives Matter continues, federal officers provoke violence


(@pdxlawgrrrl / Twitter)


In Portland, Oregon, President Donald Trump executed his promise to dominate the streets with federal officers. But instead of quelling the protestors' alleged violence, the officers seem to incite it.


For more than 50 days, hundreds Portland residents have continued to protest in support of Black Lives Matter along with thousands of others worldwide. After protestors dethroned a statue of George Washington in June, Trump wasn’t happy, to say the least. One week later, he signed an executive order to protect American monuments, and by the next day, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Marshals Service deployed federal agents to Portland, according to the Oregonian.


Akin to the secret police of authoritarian regimes, these agents mask their identities while targeting protestors. Now, as protestors fight for justice and police reform, they are faced with violence from federal agents, in addition to the cascade of tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrests from the local police force they were facing before. 



Federal Agents are committing unsolicited violence


Police brutality is nothing new. Only now, the use of cameras has caught them and spurred a moment of truth. However, federal agents in unmarked vehicles attacking residents definitely make police accountability more challenging. 


The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement that they will not tolerate the criminal actions of the “violent anarchists” who have organized events in Portland with the “willful intent to damage and destroy federal property, as well as injure federal officers and agents.”


However, we’re not talking about rioters right now. We’re talking about individuals who did nothing except exercise their rights to protest.


[Editor’s note: the following anecdote features violent content that may be triggering for some readers.]



When 26-year-old Donavan La Bella protested in front of Downtown Portland’s federal courthouse on July 11, his hands were in the air. He was alone, showed no signs of aggression and only held a speaker. Federal officers threw a canister at his feet, and La Bella calmly pushed it away. But, officers fired impact munition at La Bella anyways, injuring his head and fracturing his skull, according to the Oregonian.


[End of trigger warning]


And this is just one incidence of violence in Portland in the last 47 days.


While some may say the officer was simply doing his job, Sid Heal, a retired commander of the Los Angeles Sherrif’s Department, says otherwise. According to Heal, officers are trained to aim for the torso.


“Nobody anywhere in the world that I am aware of is taught to aim for the head unless deadly force is also authorized,” he said. “In this particular case, there is no rational way to say that deadly force was authorized.”


The menace of federal agents was so strong, that hundreds of moms decided they had to protect protestors. They linked arms to create a wall of moms and chanted “Moms are here, feds stay clear” and “Leave our kids alone.” Despite their intended “non-threatening” appearance, federal officers have still tried to disperse some of the moms using tear-gas and batons.




Federal Agents Are Kidnapping Protestors 


The federal agents in Portland are also giving people more reasons to fear white vans. Videos have shown federal authorities detaining people with unmarked vehicles and no explanation.


As Mark Pettibone and Conner O’Shea walked home from a protest, unidentified men wearing camouflage and body armor charged towards them. O’Shea got away, but Pettibone was arrested.


“I was terrified,” Pettibone told the Washington Post. “It seemed like it was out of a horror/sci-fi, like a Philip K. Dick novel. It was like being preyed upon.”


Pettibone told Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) that the officers tossed him into a van, pulled his beanie over his eyes and held his hands over his head. They drove Pettibone to the federal courthouse, which they did not tell him until he was released. Officers inspected him and discarded him in a cell. After he declined to answer questions, he was released about an hour and a half later.



What do Portland’s government officials think? 


Portland’s mayor and state officials have denounced the presence of federal law enforcement in the city, according to USA TODAY. Democrat Mayor Ted Wheeler said that they were seeing a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government.  


Federal officers, he said, “are not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued multiple federal agencies for yanking people off Portland’s streets without a warrant. On USA TODAY, the lawsuit says the agents disregarded the civil rights of Oregon residents through unlawful tactics. It asks the court to mandate that federal agents identify themselves and their agency before arresting individuals and provide an explanation to any arrested person. 


The U.S. Attorney in Portland, Billy Williams, also asked the Department of Homeland Security inspector general to investigate the incidents.


Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration to end “lawlessness” in Portland and an attack on journalists and legal observers at protests.

 

But according to Ken Cuccinelli, Homeland Security's acting deputy secretary, unmarked vehicles should not be surprising and the practice is "so common it's barely worth discussion" in police departments.



How did Trump tweet about it?


Unsurprisingly, Trump stands on the side of the federal agents and applauds them. He insisted in a tweet that they are trying to “help Portland, not hurt it.”


He also attacked the city’s elected officials by saying they “lost control” and that the protestors were “anarchists and agitators” and “the real deal!”


Because the deployment is an executive order issued by the president with the support of national security, it’s difficult to dispute. Even still, the practice seems questionable. After all, the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment protect the right to due process. 


With the possibility of the tactics spreading across the nation, they will not be swept away easily. And they cannot be swept aside. 


Trump seems to be testing his limits. Our constitutional rights are the victim. The government wants citizens to not question, not resist, but to simply exist. 


We cannot allow racism and violence to perpetuate at the hands of the dominant power, who has always had the upper hand. We cannot let our constitutional rights become feeble. 





Katie Delk is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. Her simple pleasures include meditating, sitting beneath trees, writing poetry and blasting '70s music. She cares immensely about the earth, powerful women and social justice. You can reach her at kdelk@ufl.edufor more info.