Gresham mulls removing BLM flag in face of armed threats
The city of Gresham is mulling taking down the Black Lives Matter flag flying at City Hall in an attempt to deescalate threats of violence surrounding a planned armed protest tonight.
During an emergency council meeting Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 26, hours before a planned protest and counter-protest surrounding the flag, city leadership debated different strategies on keeping the community and police officers safe.
"I am very concerned about the safety of our officers, staff and community," said Mayor Karylinn Echols. "When it comes to violence and destruction, we can't have any tolerance around this."
The Wednesday evening event is a planned "flag wave" organized by folks from outside the community, including an alleged spearheading by the Proud Boys, and have included messages on social media about "tearing down the Black Lives Matter flag."
The Gresham Police Department received reports the anti-flag group's plans on coming armed with weapons to City Hall, 1333 N.W. Eastman Parkway. Chief Robin Sells, who requested the flag be taken down for the evening, said the organizer is Alan Swinney, a member of the Proud Boys, who has been involved in the downtown Portland "Back the Blue" rallies that have led to violent spats with counter protestors.
Swinney made national headlines Saturday, Aug. 22, when he brandished a gun and pointed it at the opposing crowd. Regardless of whether the city removes the flag, Swinney has allegedly told police he and his group are coming.
In response to their arrival in Gresham, a group of local protestors plan on rallying around the Black Lives Matter flag to protect it from being forcibly removed.
"I might have 50 officers here tonight — but we will be outnumbered," Sells said. "My ask is that we take down all the flags at City Hall. I don't know if we should stand by the flag and jeopardize the safety of our community."
Council was split on what to do about the potential for violence. Mayor Echols, Council President Janine Gladfelter, and Councilors Jerry Hinton and David Widmark all were reluctantly leaning toward taking down the Black Lives Matter flag tonight in an attempt to remove the potential target. The idea includes putting the flag back up in the morning, and continuing to fly it through Aug. 31 as was initially voted on in June.
"I am afraid for my community," Widmark said. "We have honored our commitment to the symbol, and I would be willing to consider taking it down for tonight. I do not want to consider putting our officers in harms' way."
Councilors Vincent Jones-Dixon, Eddy Morales and Mario Palmero all disagreed with that strategy.
"If hate is truly not a value we have, then we cannot lower the flag," Palmero said.
Instead, they said, the flag should remain in place so the city does not bow to intimidation tactics.
"I don't want us to be a council that takes action when we are threatened by violence, hate and weapons," Morales said. "We need to put our foot down and show we don't accept hate speech and destruction of property here in the city of Gresham."
The protests are planned to begin at 6 p.m. at City Hall, and the Gresham Police Department recommends the community stay away.
At the end of the meeting, council reiterated that it denounces any hate speech, racism or violence within the community.
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