In late July, as it became clear the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Portland, Oregon, would become a semi-permanent feature of life, The New York Times explored “How One of America’s Whitest Cities Became the Center of B.L.M. Protests.”
At the top of the piece, Thomas Fuller wrote that in the Pacific Northwest city, a “sea of white faces in one of the whitest major American cities has cried out for racial justice every night for nearly two months.”
“During 56 straight nights of protests here, throngs of largely white protesters have raised their fists in the air and chanted, ‘This is not a riot, it’s a revolution,'” Fuller wrote, observing the city was the whitest of the 35 cities in the United States with over 500,000 population.
“They have thrown water bottles at the federal courthouse, tried to pry off the plywood that protects the entrance and engaged in running battles with police officers through clouds of tear gas. In recent nights, the number of protesters has swollen into the thousands.”
At some point, the energy of upheaval becomes enervation. That point has arguably been reached in Portland, where the consecutive nights of protests and violence have reached the triple-digit mark.
That can be glimpsed in two cases captured on camera in Portland and posted to Twitter on Monday in which black drivers can be seen facing off with mostly white protesters who were blocking their way.
The video, taken outside the city’s North Precinct, was posted by independent photojournalist Brendan Gutenschwager during a demonstration outside the precinct that began Sunday night and culminated in fires and 15 arrests.
In one video, a black motorist demands to be let through the line.
“You’re setting fires in the streets?” she said. “No, that’s violence. OK? That’s violent. Get out of my way.”
WARNING: The following videos contain graphic language that some viewers will find offensive.
“You’re setting fires in the streets? No, that’s violence. That’s violent. Get out of my way” A woman demands to be let through the street, which protesters have blockaded near the precinct #Portland #PortlandProtests pic.twitter.com/wAiZfJcotf
— Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) September 7, 2020
“Who died from the fire?” one of the protesters seemed to ask — an interesting line for what demarcates violence. (And a bad one, too; the Portland Police Bureau would note in a news release that the county “has a burn ban in effect due to extremely dry conditions” and that because one of the fires was kicking up embers, it needed to be extinguished in order to remove a potential threat. Given Portland first responders’ general refusal to intervene further these protests than absolutely necessary, that’s telling.)
“I think you don’t know what you’re talking about,” another protester said. That, again, is an interesting line of thought when one thinks the way to make black lives matter is to block a black woman’s car.
The motorist, in turn, listed a number of Portland suburbs they could go “tear up.”
Persistence paid in this situation, as the woman was eventually let through.
— Brendan Gutenschwager (@BGOnTheScene) September 7, 2020
In another confrontation, a black driver who was apparently being let through still got out to let the protesters know exactly how she felt.
“I’m tired of y’all walking around this city,” she told a white protester. “Make sure you clean up.”
During the video, one of the black protesters firmly explained to the woman that she should hurry on her way.
“Get in your car and go, sister. Sister, get in your car and go,” he said. “Black sister, get in your car and go.”
In other words, this protest is all about centering black voices — just not hers, as it doesn’t harmonize with theirs.
The North Precinct is a popular spot for protests, with the Portland Police Bureau saying in a Monday morning news release that it “has been the site of numerous violent protests over the past few months.”
Protesters, according to the release, arrived at the scene chanting “burn it down.” It’s unclear what “it” meant, but absent the opportunity to burn down the North Precinct itself, the demonstrators burned two mattresses and yard debris.
“After about an hour, the majority of the gathering moved around to the North side of the precinct, blocking traffic on Northeast Killingsworth Street. For the security of the facility, officers prevented the march from proceeding south on Northeast 6th Avenue,” the news release said.
“The crowd was advised over loudspeaker that Southeast 6th Avenue was closed between Northeast Killingsworth Street and Northeast Roselawn Street.
“While the crowd blocked the street, drivers in two separate cars trying to proceed were caught by surprise and were stuck in the middle of the crowd. This caused some confrontations, but no known injuries. “
Most of the protest was over by 1 a.m. That said, a number of those who showed up apparently weren’t there to be mostly peaceful, as 15 arrests can attest to.
Of worry, as well, was what was found in the possession of those who were taken into custody.
“Officers discovered one arrestee was in possession of a glass jar filled with flammable liquid. Another had a bottle containing an accelerant and a slugging weapon known as a slung shot,” the release read.
“Still another had an electronic control weapon (‘stun gun’) and a baton. Two arrestees had ballistic vests, including one, marked with the word ‘press,’ with rifle plates.”
This may be a “sea of white faces in one of the whitest major American cities,” as Fuller described it in The Times, although the sea may be more of a lake these days. They’re not “[crying] out for racial justice every night,” however, and Portlanders of every race are a bit sick of it.
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