The Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) condemns the actions taken by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) and other coordinating law enforcement agencies on Saturday, August 4th, 2018. We are horrified by the level of state violence enacted, and decry PPB Chief Outlaw’s responses, which, among other things, called the injuries the PPB caused to anti-fascist and anti-racist counter-demonstrators, journalists, and other civilians mere “allegations” to be investigated. At least two people were hospitalized with severe physical injuries, many others sustained less severe physical injury, and hundreds of people were indelibly traumatized by experiencing such extreme state violence. No one but the police were deploying flash bang grenades, full strength pepper spray, pepper ball projectiles, and other impact weapons that amount to use of deadly force.
The NLG had legal observers on the ground monitoring the police throughout the entire mobilization on Saturday, who witnessed truly disturbing action taken by the police. Despite the threats of gun violence emanating from the right-wing, which had proliferated throughout the internet in the days leading up to “Unite the Right West Coast,” the Portland Police Bureau focused their attention, and directed all uses of force, toward anti-fascist and anti-racist counter-demonstrators.
The day began with Patriot Prayer, Proud Boys, and other far-right groups and individuals rallying at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, leftists rallying at City Hall and Chapman Square. When leftist counter-demonstrators marched to the waterfront to demonstrate their opposition to right-wing ideology, PPB’s riot police lined up to face them. Though we understand the intention behind keeping the two opposing groups separated, it was visibly apparent that the police were there to “protect and serve” only one side. They faced the counter-demonstrators, and chose to try to make them disperse, despite the First Amendment implications, and no escalation from their side.
Sometime around 1:40pm, the anti-fascist and anti-racist counter-demonstrators marched east on SW Columbia, to again visibly oppose the far-right’s un-permitted march down the waterfront. Though there was no escalation from the anti-fascist and anti-racist crowd, the police began giving dispersal orders, saying that “all those standing at SW Columbia and SW Naito need to move to the west immediately.” At this point, both sides were standing in that area. Shortly thereafter, however, just before 2pm, Portland Police officers stood close to the far-right group at the waterfront, and loaded and began deploying numerous rounds of flash bang grenades, then other projectiles, including chemical agents. As they launched the weapons into the crowd of hundreds of counter-demonstrators, the far-right was heard cheering, and police officers were photographed appearing to be laughing.
We reject the PPB’s assertion that they deployed “less-lethal” munitions on the crowd of counter-demonstrators “in response to the violent and assaultive behavior of the crowd.” If anything, the “violent and assaultive behavior” was exhibited and initiated by the police. From our standpoints, and from journalists’ video evidence we have reviewed, no “projectiles” were thrown at the officers until after they escalated into use of deadly force. Even then, those few “projectiles” were mostly water bottles that wouldn’t injure anyone at the protest, let alone the police—outfitted in full, militarized riot gear. The insinuation that the counter-demonstrators were the ones making the event unsafe is patently absurd.
As the police escalation continued, their skirmish line used batons to forcefully hit people, throwing them to the ground and drawing blood from numerous people caught up in the melee. A flash bang grenade or other explosive projectile hit one woman in the arm, causing it to break. Another hit the back of someone’s head, lodging it in their helmet, and causing a severe head wound that likely would have been lethal had the person not been wearing a helmet. Riot police sprinted after people, using their momentum and batons to launch those who could not get away fast enough into the air and onto the ground. Even after people had dispersed the area, and were a long distance from the far-right march, police continued to deploy impact, explosive, and chemical weapons on the terrified counter-demonstrators. The police had turned downtown Portland into a war zone.
After police ended their assault, many counter-demonstrators returned to SW Naito, to do the same thing they had been doing all day: outnumber and oppose those who had again chosen to rally in Portland to express violent, oppressive ideology.
The remarks made by Chief Outlaw and Assistant Chief Ryan Lee, made at a press conference on August 6th minimized the terror and trauma the community felt at the hands of the police. When asked about accountability for police actions, Outlaw responded, “Where is the accountability on both sides?” As if there is no unequal power distribution between police and anti-racist and anti-fascist civilians. Only one side is imbued with the power to use any amount of violent force on anyone they deem a threat, then infringe on their freedom by jailing them. That this response also referred to the police and counter-demonstrators as “the two sides” acknowledges this oppositional relationship, which is not what we have seen between far-right demonstrators and the police. Outlaw’s repeated assertion of the PPB’s “neutrality” is quickly rebutted by near-ubiquitous videos and firsthand accounts of the day.
In addition, this type of police violence is not new, and the potential for injury and death by flash bang grenades is well documented nationally. Our legal observers have watched the police escalate into militarized use of “less lethal” force since the fall of 2016, following the Trump election. Since that time, police have deployed numerous flash bang grenades at protests, among other weapons, and have injured multiple people with that force. Flash bangs have most commonly been used as part of the War on Drugs, maiming and terrifying the mostly Black residents whose lives have been subjected to the violence of home raids.
To summarize, we are outraged, dismayed, and heartbroken by the one-sided violence the police displayed on Saturday. Those who come to defend their community against the violent ideologies of white, male, cis, hetero, Christian, and American supremacy should never be met with deadly force by the police. We join the calls for PPB to discontinue their use of militarized “less-lethal” weapons, at protests, during house raids, and for any other purpose. Funding for such weapons and their training can and should be redirected away from the police, and into the services that create real safety for the people of Portland.
In solidarity against oppression,
The Portland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild
Juan C. Chavez
503-944-2270 ext. 212