The Portland Police Bureau is back in familiar territory — engaging in what some might call Monday morning quarterbacking about crowd control tactics during a protest.
This time, it's an instant replay of the climate strike that sent legions of local students out of the classroom and streaming into downtown Portland on Friday, Sept. 20.
"This was an event with thousands of juveniles and very little supervision from adults," the authorities wrote in a news release on Sept. 24.
In the aftermath of the demonstration, which was attended by more than 6,000, some participants questioned why police directed marchers on the Hawthorne Bridge onto the south sidewalk and a lone closed auto lane — leaving the other three lanes open to traffic.
Others have accused several officers of racism after they arrested and ultimately charged two unidentified 17-year-old boys with second-degree disorderly conduct and interfering with police. Videos posted online show two teens, who are both African-American, standing on a guardrail separating the largely white crowd from vehicular traffic. But only one of the teens in the video was arrested.
Just weeks after @PortlandPolice escorted white nationalist protesters across the Hawthorne Bridge so they could harass the people of Portland, today they blockaded then got physical with several PPS (notably not white) climate action protesters on the same bridge. pic.twitter.com/tat3XhZqsW— PDX Resistance âœŠ (@Pdx_resistance) September 21, 2019
Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said that when officers chose to "single out" two youth, they missed a valuable opportunity.
"Every encounter with the public is an opportunity to build community trust, yet this is how these officers chose to interact with children peacefully engaging in direct action," she wrote. "It's disappointing that of the many ways this interaction could have happened, this is what ultimately transpired."
Police said their conduct during the tussle, captured in several viral videos, was a combination of environmental factors, the large crowd size and constraints on time, tactics and resources.
"While in a dangerous position, the individual involved did not comply with repeated verbal commands and resisted arrest," the bureau said. "Resisting arrest is against the law."
Candace Avalos — who is running for a City Council seat to be vacated by Commissioner Amanda Fritz — said the authorities' behavior was upsetting.
"I'm having a hard time thinking of any scenario that would warrant this kind of response," she said.
Bridge too far?
The Hawthorne Bridge was closed well in advance of the Patriot Prayer rally on Saturday, Aug. 17. But during a crucial moment, a police skirmish line opened for organizer Joey Gibson and some of his followers, allowing them to pass back to the east side of the city.
It's a study in contrasts acutely noticed by observers.
"On (Aug. 17), Hawthorne Bridge was blocked to traffic ALL day while white bigots descended on our city with hate," wrote mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone, "but for a peaceful, permitted youth-led climate march police show up with yellow tape ad hoc?"
Police say it's apples and oranges. In their telling, concerns regarding street warfare between flag-clad conservatives and the masked anti-fascists known as antifa prompted the bridge closure, and re-opening it briefly was not a "predetermined decision."
"A decision was made by the incident commander to de-escalate the situation and temporarily open the bridge to foot traffic to allow that group (Patriot Prayer) to cross the bridge so they could leave and decrease the opportunity for physical clashes," police explained.
Local law enforcement say they did not have enough staff on Sept. 20 to shutter the entire bridge, which is owned by Multnomah County, and must be closed in compliance with maritime regulations. Plans must be made to reroute emergency vehicles as well.
Police additionally say they underestimated how many would attend the climate strike. An incident commander did close Southwest 4th Avenue near City Hall, however, and several other streets at times.
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