SSome arrive early and leave before the atmosphere changes and the problem begins. Others sit in on the peaceful rally and arrive in time for the nightly showdown to the drummers’ rhythm mustering the ad hoc force of Portland protesters against “Trump troops.”
But each night follows the same extensive ritual in downtown Portland in support of Black Lives Matter and against Donald Trump’s deployment of federal paramilitaries, even as protests have escalated to attract organized groups of mothers, military veterans and first-time protesters pushed too far by the president.
The peaceful protest against racial injustice that occurs at dusk generally evolves into midnight and turns into a staged confrontation with border patrol officers, the US Marshals Service, and other agencies deployed for the unusual task of confronting popular anger on American streets.
Each side accuses the other of provoking the fight, and therefore both claim to be defending themselves.
Television footage of the skirmishes: Federal forces in camouflage launching waves of tear gas and rounds of batons, and they closely resemble military invaders; Protesters in gas masks and helmets, some with large homemade shields, more akin to an insurgency, are open to interpretation.
Fox News selectively presents them as evidence that Portland is a “war zone” in which protesters’ arsenal includes flares, fireworks, and lasers aimed at the eyes of federal officials. Some protesters also use the language of war, describing tear gas as “chemical warfare,” federal agents as an “occupation army,” and citing the Geneva conventions by accusing authorities of war crimes for shooting protesters. on the head with rounds of walking sticks.
But the theater of intense staged street battles is limited to a few blocks from downtown Portland and obscures the growth of protests over the issue of racial justice and the outburst of anger by federal intervention for four years. Trump government.
The high point was the sight of unidentified federal paramilitaries kidnapping protesters in unidentified pickup trucks and the violence officers had committed against a peacefully protesting US Navy veteran.
But the protests have now become a focal point of anger towards a president indifferent to the death toll from coronavirus, tens of millions driven to unemployment and an environmental emergency. There is also a growing fear that America’s democracy is under threat.
Jean McNeil, a machinist, traveled from the neighboring state of Washington to join the demonstration in front of the Portland court, where the federal paramilitaries are located.
“Honestly, I support Black Lives Matters, but that was not what brought me here. He wanted to face Trump. I think that’s what this is really about for a lot of people here. We are fed up with this man and the damage he has done, and this is the time to defend our democracy because Trump will do everything he can between now and November to steal the elections, ”he said.
Lydia, a Teamsters union organizer who, like many protesters who fear being arrested, chose to give only her first name, agreed.
“People are here for multiple reasons other than sending a message about Black Lives Matter. It is about making sure that we have protected our right to protest and participate in freedom of expression. It is anger at Trump and his presidency and how much it has really eroded our environmental protections, job protections for people, the economy has collapsed, ”he said.
Democratic political leaders in Oregon have accused Trump of politicizing the use of federal forces to provoke conflict in order to present himself as president of law and order. Trump has said he will send thousands more officers to other cities, such as Chicago to combat gun violence, in a move widely interpreted as an attempt to stir up riots across the country as a distraction from his inability to tackle the pandemic and its economic consequences.
If so, the president is unlikely to be upset that his intervention in Portland has reinvigorated the protests and intensified the confrontation between protesters and federal officials.
With neither side willing to back down, and the Trump administration preparing to send dozens more officers to Portland, there is growing concern that the night battles are playing in the hands of the President.
The head of the Portland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ED Mondainé, said he feared that BLM in the city was being co-opted by “privileged white people” and that the “empty battles” were fulfilling the agenda of a presidential bait. protesters to light the fuse in a racist reaction across the country before the election.
“We cannot let tear gas and rubber bullets define the moment we are in now,” he said.
Others see it differently. Teressa Raiford, African-American director of Don’t Shoot Portland, dismissed Mondainé’s criticism as “propaganda.”
“He is part of the problem because he is part of the political power,” he said.
Some of the protesters are not without doubts. They acknowledge that Trump is exploiting the protests, but say that his intervention cannot be questioned.
A U.S. Navy veteran, who only identified himself as John, said he had not been to the protests prior to federal intervention, but was pulled out by federal officials who beat up a Navy veteran, Christopher David, who was protesting peacefully.
“He did nothing but ask that question and was beaten. I saw the video. I said it’s enough, “he said. “If Trump uses federal troops against the people, and I consider that I represent the people here, that is the beginning of the end, I think of a democracy. I am very concerned about the condition of our democracy, the health of our democracy. “
Lydia, the union organizer, also acknowledged that Trump is exploiting the violence of the protests, but said he will not get him what he wants.
“If he were really interested in sending the feds to the supporting states, he would send them to help provide medical care to people during a pandemic,” he said. Instead, he sends them here as a political trick to try to shake the cages of his followers who are deadly afraid of liberal or progressive ideology around a host of problems. ” This is just a scare tactic. They are the last gasps of a losing president. “