From west to east, Portlanders gather to protest police brutality
The sun beamed down on Lauren Cullop's shoulders as she held up a cardboard sign with a hand-scrawled message, "Please for my son."
Cullop and hundreds of others gathered along Multnomah Boulevard in Southwest Portland Wednesday evening, June 3, for a family-friendly demonstration against racism and police brutality.
Wednesday's demonstration marked the first notable event in Southwest Portland, but it was one of several events that have taken place in Portland for the past week, largely spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis on May 25.
In Multnomah Village, a predominantly white area of a predominantly white city, cars honked, residents waved and cheered, and motorcyclists revved their engines as they rode past the boulevard lined with Black Lives Matter signs. The scene was notably tame, compared with brief spates of looting and rioting that had erupted following peaceful protests downtown over the past week. A city-wide curfew that was imposed Saturday was lifted by Tuesday. That same evening, thousands took to the Burnside Bridge and laid down with their hands behind their backs — a silent nod to Floyd, who had died shortly after an officer kept a knee to Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds as he struggled to breathe.
Cullop's 16-year-old son is part Indian. She said she sometimes worries for his safety.
"I have a mixed-race son. He isn't African American, but whenever he puts his hood up, I feel scared for him and I don't want him to go running in the neighborhood," Cullop said.
For many, Wednesday's modest demonstration was the first time they'd found themselves protesting. It also provided a civics lesson for younger participants.
"We figured it was a great way to get them exposed to peaceful demonstration, and (to exercise) the power we have," said Alex Wilburn, who ventured out with her family, including a 13-year-old. Wilburn said after seeing an announcement on Facebook, she felt a sense of responsibility to show up and demonstrate what she called, "the importance of fighting for racial justice, especially as white people."
Farther down the boulevard, a pair of young siblings, ages 4 and 6, held signs atop a van. One read, "Hold police accountable."
Cullop has the same requests.
Earlier this week, she sent a letter to the Minneapolis police chief to denounce Floyd's death and demand accountability from the police department. The officers involved in the incident have since been fired.
"It's not the first time I've used my voice against state killings of black men and women," she said.
Just before 6 p.m., protesters slowly began to thin out. At a crowded intersection, a white sign stood out above the rest, "A change is gonna come."
On the other side of the city, Zhané Dadson wondered if that was true.
As thousands of people crowded the lawn at Revolution Hall in Southeast Portland for the sixth night of demonstrations, Dadson shared her fears and struggles as a black woman, and her hopes for the sea of people before her.
"We do need allies to speak up," Dadson said, but noted the fervor of the moment has to carried through to action.
"Are we going to see the change, or are we just going to be waiting for the next trend to happen? This is not a trend. These are our lives; this is my life. That was my father, that was my brother, and the reality is I could be the next hashtag, with no remorse. Who is protecting my life? Who is protecting black lives?"
Jarreau Brown called the turnout, "kind of a shock."
"I knew Portland was a progressive city, but it's (comforting) to see people come together," Brown noted. "I really appreciate it, as a black man. Protest is the first step toward power."
But like Dadson, Brown questioned how many of the protesters showing up would follow up with other actionable items to effect change.
In the sky above Revolution Hall, a helicopter hovered. On the other side of the venue, protesters spilled out onto Stark Street, where organizers with megaphones led a crowd in chanting the names of black Americans killed by police.
"It takes moments like this for people to come together and more consistency, not just pop-up moments … for folks on social media to just check off a box," Dadson added. "Change comes with moments like this, but it also comes from sitting at the table, doing the work, voting."
More demonstrations in Portland and across Oregon were scheduled over the next several days, into the weekend.
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