The federal presence on our streets is unconstitutional, unacceptable, and needs to be withdrawn. It has also momentarily shifted attention from our local law enforcement response. It shouldn’t.
Each morning, I’ve watched videos from the previous evening, taken by protesters and by members of the press. I have also seen photographs and videos posted by the Portland Police Bureau. I’ve gone to the Justice Center on a Friday evening. What I’ve seen is a police response that is enormously disproportionate to the actions of the protesters.
Evenings begin with people gathering either at the Justice Center or at a couple of locations on the east side, generally in front of a police facility. A phalanx of riot gear-clad police officers stands in front of the building. The atmosphere is often more that of street party than protest. But people are yelling, getting up in the faces of the officers, and some are throwing things. At some point in the evening, the PPB declares a riot. It’s generally entirely unclear what has provoked the declaration. And what ensues is horrifying. Last night, multiple videos show the police charging protesters, running them over, grabbing them and throwing them to the ground, using their batons to hit people as they are running away. Journalists have reported being shoved, hit, and worse. And almost every night, hundreds of people are choking in clouds of gas.
A small number of the protesters are engaging in dangerous activity. Setting fire to buildings, shining lasers at the eyes of law enforcement -- these are dangerous. People who engage in these activities should be held accountable. I continue to worry about the safety of the people inside the Justice Center. I don’t condone property damage. I don’t want to spend taxpayer dollars on fixing damage to our parks.
But the police response we’re seeing is still disproportionate, even to the activities that many of us wish would stop. It is escalating conflict, not preventing it. I know that they are exhausted and frustrated. I get that it is not pleasant, to say the least, to be yelled at, to be threatened, to have things thrown at you. I believe that there are officers who genuinely believe in public service, and are distraught about the anger directed toward them. But none of that justifies this violence. It is their job to figure out how to de-escalate. This is not an equal battle. On the one hand, sworn representatives of the government, armed to the teeth. On the other, the people they are sworn to protect and serve.
Violence will not stop violence. It will escalate. It will continue to erode any remaining trust in the police. And if we continue on this path, local law enforcement will be seen as just as much of an occupying army as the federal troops.