Protesters' rioting mars May Day rally
What was supposed to be a day honoring workers' rights and immigrant justice devolved into a fiery riot at which police arrested 25 people.
Organized by the Portland May Day Coalition, the annual rally and march celebrating International Workers' Day took place Monday, May 1, at Shemanski Park, as it has for the last several years.
This year, however, protesters dressed all in black, faces covered in bandanas and masks, took to the streets in their own parallel march promoting opposition to capitalism. It was organized by a group called the Anarchist Student Union.
Police revoked the permit around 4:30 p.m. when things turned violent, as protesters threw smoke bombs, started fires in the street and damaged other property, including a police car. Police asked people to leave downtown immediately due to unsafe conditions.
Declaring a riot
Around 5 p.m., as protesters headed south along the Park Blocks, police began using a loud-hailer aboard a truck to warn that the protest had been declared a riot, and that participants were ordered to stand down.
A large group of protesters began racing on foot down Southwest Jefferson and Madison Streets, heading east. Police in full riot gear and standing on running boards attached to SUVs gave chase.
Rioters raced past at the Gus Solomon Courthouse, at Broadway and Madison, stopping to throw newspaper boxes into the street, set fire to garbage cans, hurl a smoke bomb near the Ambassador Condominiums building, and to hurl rocks into first-floor windows, shattering several panes.
The police — using a tactic sometimes called "kettling" — set up barriers of officers and patrol cars at Jefferson and Main, while giving chase from behind, which drove the protesters toward more officers waiting near City Hall on Fifth Street. There, protesters attempted to scatter on foot and several arrests were made.
Those arrested ranged from 14 years old to 44 years old.
What's needed to provoke change?
It was clear early on that some of the protesters were looking for trouble.
Prior to taking to the streets, one masked individual, who would not give his name, said he was involved with the Portland's Resistance group and was hoping for "mass chaos."
"That's what's necessary to enact change," he said. Anarchy fuels progress, he said, and "everything (Mayor Ted) Wheeler's done, we've made him."
Organizers can't seem to escape groups using the march portion of the event — which was to begin around 3 p.m. — for other agendas. The march at last year's May Day event was canceled because of actions by a group of protesters in 2015.
Don't Shoot Portland organized a parallel march that year to protest police brutality and the shooting of Freddie Gray.
May Day protests have occurred in the city regularly since the early 2000s, organized by the Portland May Day Coalition. It is made up of more than 30 organizations, including Voz, a nonprofit organization that promotes the rights of immigrant workers in Portland.
Romeo Sosa, executive director of Voz, says violence isn't the route to change. Voz has been involved with the coalition since 2006, the year protests occurred all around the country on May 1 in response to legislation introduced in Congress that would harshen penalties for illegal immigration.
"We can (make change) in a peaceful way, by uniting our voices, but not necessarily using violence, because violence provokes more violence," Sosa says. "I think people are angry about the system, about how it works in the country — but (violence) is not the way to do it."
The May Day Coalition, for its part of the rally, called on workers, renters, artists, immigrants, students, unions and more to rise up for the occasion. Shemanski Park was full of groups from varying backgrounds and causes, from immigrant justice and rent control to rights of postal workers and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Portland was just one city of many across the nation to protest President Donald Trump's ramped-up approach in deporting undocumented immigrants and his desire to build a massive border wall.
Two students from Portland Community College were there to promote discussion around racism.
They held a sign that they said was part of an art project that said "Why are there no people of color on our City Council?"
Portlander Olivia Singlagl, of Samoan background, said she feels as though the community has a hard time talking about race. Without a person of color on City Council, "They can't think about the issues colored people face," she said.
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly happened to come near the sign and engaged with the students, discussing how City Council leaders are elected.
Eudaly said she just wanted to "blend in" during the march and hoped that things remained peaceful. Things escalated shortly afterward, however.
Organizers aren't sure what they're going to do for next year's event. This year they beefed-up organizing, instituting more "peace keepers," in hopes that the event would remain peaceful after 2015, and canceling 2016's march.
"I think we had more organizers this year … we thought it was going to be different," Sosa said. "We put a lot of effort to put in peacekeepers and a stronger community for the march, but it wasn't enough." He added that they may have to have a discussion to figure out the best way to have a peaceful International Workers' Day celebration, suggesting, perhaps, a potluck and rally with music.
Rae Anne Lafrenz, coordinator with the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice, another group in the coalition, doesn't want folks to "disappear in fear of random, uncontrolled acts of violence" and encourages positive messaging.
"This isn't a time to retreat by any stretch," she says, but notes "This isn't a war — this is a movement we're building."
Dana Haynes contributed to this report.