Over the last year we have seen a significant shift in the exercise of free speech protests nationwide and, especially, in the City of Portland. Locally there have been protests for everything from a new collective bargaining agreement between the City and the Portland Police Association to the June 4th “Free Speech Protest” by white supremacists, and everything in between. The disturbing theme to these protests is that they have become increasingly more violent, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars to private business owners for damage caused by criminal acts by a number of protesters whose mission is to cause as much chaos as possible with no concern for who is negatively affected. There are also the hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars spent on damage to government and public property, parks, streets and sidewalks, as well as overtime pay to City employees, including Portland Police and Portland Fire overtime staffing.
Then there is the negative national attention and spotlight, which has earned the City of Portland the nickname “Protest Central.” The ACLU has injected monitors into the protest crowds wearing distinctive colored and labeled vests to document alleged police misconduct and use of excessive force. Self-proclaimed activists and community leaders have clamored for the spotlight to push their agendas of rhetoric with little regard for the constitutional and civil rights of those citizens that simply want to travel freely to and from work, recreation or business by blocking transit, bridges, freeway access and sidewalks. Citizens have also had their own personal vehicles damaged by so called protestors when attempting to go about their daily lives.
Progressively, these protests and their violence have escalated from property damage and transit stoppages to the throwing of rocks, bottles, bricks, and flares, potentially injuring citizens and intentionally attempting to injure police and EMTs who are tasked with keeping the peaceful protestors safe and to render aid to those in need. During the May Day and June 4 protests, police and other public safety officers were not only pelted with the usual cache of objects including urine, fecal matter and used tampons, but these items were also thrown at whoever else was in the way. Ironically, not one of these violent offenders was pointed out to police by the ACLU monitors or peaceful protestors in the crowds, yet dozens of complaints were sent in to the Independent Police Review Division with the help of the ACLU and other activist organizations. And, although City Hall commended the hard work of the Police and other first responders involved with these protests, no City or County elected public official condemned the actions of those who were involved in criminal activity during these protests. No community leaders or peaceful activist organizations came out and chastised those who turned the protest violent.
There were those who got the ears of some in City Hall questioning the tactics used by police who used appropriate crowd control measures to protect citizens and themselves from serious injury from the barrage of objects intentionally hurled in their direction. While the large segment of citizens of Portland are angered and grow tired of those who are causing most of the issues, our elected City and County leaders’ silence enables this kind of behavior to not only continue but to escalate. Until elected officials call for swift and clear prosecution of criminal acts during these protest events and unless they collectively call for strict guidelines and parameters for these events, the risks and potential for community members and first responders to be seriously injured at one of these events is a reality.
Daryl Turner, President