Fiasco fizzles at weekend waterfront protest in Portland
Like the song says: You've got to keep them separated.
The Portland Police Bureau, it seems, did just that.
During what felt at times like a 10-hour game of hide-and-seek on Saturday, Aug. 17, far-left and far-right protesters spent more time bouncing off walls of badges than beating each other senseless.
With the Willamette River serving as the ultimate barricade, the so-called street rumble of the century sputtered into yet another bantamweight bout.
"We were preparing for and planning for a worst-case scenario," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said at a Justice Center press conference held around 6 p.m. Saturday, as the clash wound down. "I'm very pleased that, at least so far, this did not happen."
"Today was a long, arduous day," added Police Chief Danielle Outlaw. "There is more work to be done." (See Tribune editorial.)
Several far-right activists from across the country had vowed to come to Portland on Saturday for the purpose of sparking violence. Several violent, far-left activists who call themselves anti-fascists, or "antifa," had vowed to meet them fist for fist. National and international media turned to Portland, anticipating a bloody brawl and waves of vandalism downtown, as has happened in past matchups between these forces.
Many businesses downtown closed for the day, on the advice of Portland Police. Doors were locked, iron gates set up and one, Maya's Taqueria on Southwest 10th and Morrison, used picnic tables as a barricade to discourage smashed windows. Portlanders who flock to downtown coffee shops and restaurants on weekends stayed away, making the streets, only a few blocks from the anticipated violence in Waterfront Park, look deserted.
Proud boys on the move pic.twitter.com/uSOhNiYuvh— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) August 17, 2019
In the end, only 13 people were arrested, including two minors, though the majority of the adults were cited and released without being formally booked into jail. Most were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct, though one man was charged with second-degree attempted assault, a felony.
A Portland Police Bureau commander declared the unpermitted gathering a civil disturbance around 4:15 p.m., after some of the right-wingers already had fled the field, leaving the left to march aimlessly in downtown streets. Others congregated at Pioneer Courthouse Square and blocked nearby MAX tracks.
At the waterfront rally that began the day, protester Cassie Brighter said she wanted to represent her beliefs as a trans and Latina woman.
"This is a historic moment," she said, "and I'm not going to be a bystander."
The big violence was avoided, but the tumultuous mix of roughly 1,200 demonstrators and about 700 law enforcement officers, many duded up in riot gear, wasn't fist-fight free. Six people were treated for minor injuries that were not inflicted by police, the authorities wrote, and police said they used force on six occasions.
In one instance, an officer fired pepper balls at a man who gave his name as Ricky, who described rushing forward to witness the arrest of an African American man on a street corner.
"They pushed me back and shot me," Ricky said, lifting up his shirt to expose two chest bruises. "I tried to look around and see what happened and I got shot."
For the online crowd, one of the most viral videos showed counter-protesters chasing a conservative father-adult daughter duo up the Morrison Bridge off-ramp around 1 p.m. Police intervened.
Protesters and counter-protesters grappled with their bare hands, chemical spray and at least one hammer, smashing windows before the vehicles sped away. No arrests were made at that time, though a black-clad demonstrator with a head wound was handcuffed and evacuated by ambulance shortly thereafter.
Cory Elia, a journalist with the alternative radio station KBOO, said he was hit with a baton in the gut by an officer while filming.
"I got tangled up by one of the police bikes," he said. "The officers have done a good job of separating them all, but they have been extremely violent."
The police bureau said officers were struck by thrown water bottles, and began confiscating weapons — including knives, bludgeons and bear spray — as soon as people showed up.
In the spotlight
If Aug. 17 was not spectacularly violent, it did attract significant attention.
Rose City residents woke up Saturday to a tweet from President Donald Trump promising federal scrutiny of the day's events and an exhortation for Mayor Wheeler to "properly do his job!"
The Oregon Justice Resource Center attempted to halt the conservative rally with an 11th-hour lawsuit demanding an injunction, to no avail. Plaintiff Luis Enrique Marquez, an openly militant anti-fascist, continues to seek $320,000 in damages from the "End Domestic Terrorism" organizers after allegedly receiving threats to his life.
In what some saw as a bid to throw cold water during the build-up, the Multnomah County District Attorney's Office indicted five men on riot charges related to a May 1 street brawl outside a local cidery. One of the accused, Patriot Prayer leader Joey Gibson, held a press conference before turning himself in on Aug. 16.
"I stood on a sidewalk and was assaulted numerous times," Gibson said of the May Day melee. "This whole corrupt organization … they're trying to silence us."
Tom McCall Waterfront Park was anything but quiet as both sides gathered as early as 8:30 a.m. just north of the concrete barricades erected along Southwest Naito Parkway by city workers at a cost of $50,000. Protesters banged on drums and crested against police skirmish lines for hours.
Gibson, organizer Joe Biggs and a small band crossed the Willamette several times during marches on the Burnside, Hawthorne and Tilikum bridges, often avoiding anti-fascist forces. Bike police stood down to let the conservative crew pass on at least one occasion.
Wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat and carrying a flag promoting the Q-Anon conspiracy, Drakken Saer, 27, said the group's overall intentions were peaceful, despite their antipathy toward antifa.
"They're trying to spread their ideology by force," Saer said. "We're treating them as we would any bully."
Dana Haynes contributed to this article.
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