Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland have taken to the streets every day for more than five weeks, but violence is dividing the movement.
Late last week, some protesters barricaded the doors to a police precinct and set fire to the building, which also houses black-owned businesses, including an Ethiopian restaurant and a barber’s school.
Two nights later, a potluck at a park devolved into another violent clash with police, who used tear gas to quell the crowd of several hundred people.
“This is NOT the Black Lives Matter movement. This is chaos,” Kali Ladd, executive director of KairosPDX, wrote in a Facebook post.
Protests elsewhere in the city have also grown increasingly violent. Early Friday, someone broke the windows of a federal courthouse and threw fireworks that started a fire inside the building.
One prominent leader wrote to Mayor Ted Wheeler and said some clashes had unfolded three blocks from his house.
He said the problem was with “elements” that were “99 percent white” and did not represent the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It has nothing to do with helping Black people. These hoodlums are needlessly scaring neighbors and their children,” according to Ron Herndon, who has protested in Portland for four decades.
“At some point, enough is enough.”
Newly appointed Police Chief Chuck Lovell said the violence in North Portland was “offensive and hurtful” and has cost the city at least $6.2 million in overtime for its officers.
“People in that neighborhood were upset. That’s not something they’re going to tolerate … and they came out and were very vocal,” Lovell said.
“I think people sometimes look at the protest movement as one homogeneous group — and there’s definitely a segment here that is very violent.”
The tension over the protests comes amid increasing conflict within the movement itself.
Rose City Justice, a coalition that for weeks organized peaceful marches and rallies, announced last week it will no longer do so after it was criticized, among other things, for sitting down with the police commissioner and mayor to discuss police reform.
Jerome Polk has operated his business, J.P.’s Custom Framing, for 26 years from a building he shares with the North Precinct police offices that were set ablaze.
As he carried supplies into his business on a recent day, char marks, graffiti and police tape were still visible outside the building, and half of Polk’s own windows had been boarded up as a precaution.
“I don’t know the motivation of why people do what they do,” he said. “I know when the damage is done, they blame that on what the movement is supposed to be. And that’s unfortunate and unfair.”
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