As Portlanders approach four months of physically protesting our police bureau, the police and their counterparts have done much to further the case against themselves. It’s frequently discussed amongst protesters, typically to the tune of comedic irony, how the wanton person-to-person violence exacted nightly by the Portland Police Bureau across the city is responsible for the rapid radicalization of the very citizens they are allegedly deployed to serve and protect. Additionally, the ongoing targeting, arrests and abuse of medics, food providers, press and legal observers – a tactic also utilized by federal agents and alt-right militiamen – has only served to strengthen the resolve of the mutual aid workers who discuss injuries and arrests openly with one another like a public support group.
Make no mistake, the catalyst for this radicalization is anger. The anger is justified. We were angry when we took the streets, and regular abuse at the hands of police only fans the flames.
When I was arrested in early June for looking to render medical aid to fellow victims of tear gas, I was yanked backwards by my hair and pulled to the ground, bruising my elbow as I hit the pavement. Ironically, the officer who hopped out of the squad car with his billy club raised over his head and yelled, “DON’T MOVE!” as he wound up, asked me why I ran. The DA eventually declined to press charges in my case, but the fact that they would waste their time and mine by arresting me for absolutely no other reason than to assault and intimidate me immediately triggered that catalyst within me.
One night in July, clearly marked as press, a federal officer near the illegal Hatfield fence shot at me with paintballs as I streamed video of him and his team. I was able to avoid the gunfire and relocate, and another officer took a picture of my face and clearly-marked press helmet through my full-face respirator. About 45 minutes later, as DHS released gas from their murder holes, I started walking East through the park across the street taking pictures of protesters repelling the wafting poisonous gas. As I stopped and looked down to edit a picture some 30 yards from the action, I was shot in the face with an indelible paintball. Despite wearing a helmet and faceshield, the impact dropped me to my stomach. I had no idea what hit me, and there was gas approaching. Strangers pulled me off the ground. Strangers examined my head bruise and made sure I got home. A concussion and a two day headache commenced, and that spot on my head was sore to the touch for two weeks, but one thing I never got was a medical bill. That catalyst within me though? Triggered.
One weekend in August, far-right groups descended on Portland. After reporting on the live rounds fired in broad daylight near the parking garage, I returned to the medic truck to find a lone white supremacist instigating a group of counter-protesters, as he was chased away, a black Chevy Tahoe with no plates came around the corner of 4th and Main. As people called out the truck as suspicious, the driver exchanged words with the crowd and tossed an explosive out of the window towards us. Luckily no one was injured, but again, that catalyst within me…
Beyond our own individual experiences, when we see brutal violence – often directed towards our friends and comrades – nearly every night for four months, that does something to us. It’s not healthy. I’ve repeatedly seen people gassed, tackled, burned, beaten, berated, shot at, trampled and injured by police in just the last four months. There’s already talk of PTSD within the protests, and the escalating assaults, thefts and property damage seen by police in recent days seem to indicate a lack of composure in a police department already under fire for their lack of restraint and accountability. We’ve all heard the phrase “hurt people hurt people” so what do police think they are accomplishing by beating people and letting their friends get in on the action?
Anger against the ongoing police violence has fueled much of the protest, keeping us up late at night and getting us up early in the morning. Anger has helped me dig gardens and write speeches. Anger has pushed many positions on abolishing the police to the far left. Sometimes that anger, that fire, is the feeling of waking up from a metaphorical place of slumber, of being bold and rejecting abuse at the hands of those who should protect us. But we must take care not to become addicted to that energy; indeed, to become hateful of your opponent is to lose focus of the larger goals. Hate is not a virtue and it’s preposterous to propose otherwise. (It’s important to note hate is also not a requirement for the radical actions being taken, which thus far have been clearly measured in their approach.)
Far more powerful than the anger I carry are my love for my people, and my dream of seeing us all free from this vestige of slavery we call American policing. It might be anger that wakes me up at 7am after getting home at 3:30 that same morning, but it’s the want for a better world – a world that builds us up instead of holding us down – that causes me to organize my day, prioritize my actions, and stay in these streets day after day and night after night screaming Black Lives Matter and honoring our fallen. It’s the chance for my children to grow old in a world where they are not criminalized for existing or turned into slaves of the state. It’s the chance for my grandchildren to be guaranteed food, shelter and support, instead of judgement, disease and incarceration. It’s the chance to see us invest in our people and create systems that enrich one another rather than take from one another. It’s this process of building together with these new strengths that we’ve built through this process.
Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I hate the cops too. But I’m working on it.