Little Beirut was on fire this May Day. For one hot minute, at least.
Portland's annual organized labor marches have also become a recurring excuse for confrontation between the heavily geared-up Police Bureau and masked anarchists known as the "Black Bloc," who this year dragged newspaper boxes onto the light-rail tracks to make a bonfire, and traded projectiles with riot police—Pepsi cans and smoke bombs going one direction, and noise grenades the other.
Police issued permits for today's march, which began with a lunchtime rally at Shemanski Park, where a couple thousand people gathered to support a spectrum of leftist groups. They included labor unions, socialist and communist organizations, anarchist collectives, feminist bookstores, racial justice groups, immigrants' advocates, evangelical Christians, Quakers, Cascadian separatists and, of course, Black Bloc, who inevitably seize the headlines.
And understandably so! Today, in addition to the generating camera-friendly smoke and flames, they brought three giant spider puppets constructed on top of shopping carts.
The city abruptly yanked the permits for the labor march at around 4:20 pm, after Black Bloc began hurling sour-smelling smoke bombs and Pepsi cans. (The Pepsi thing is a reference to a derided television commercial featuring Kendall Jenner, who found common ground with cops through an offering of high-fructose corn syrup in a can.)
Around 4:20 pm, the glass of the federal courthouse downtown was shattered from a projectile, possibly from a slingshot. Shortly afterward, riot police deployed behind the march, and announced over a loudspeaker that permit had been revoked, "based on the violence of the crowd."
Black bloc protesters then pulled a Portland Tribune box, a real estate newspaper box and traffic cones onto the MAX tracks outside Pioneer Place, then set them ablaze at Southwest 4th and Morrison Streets. Riot police cleared the streets and the sidewalks and the march devolved into a game of cat and mouse, with Black Bloc kids dispersing downtown to carry out acts of vandalism—including at the Church of Scientology and The Nines hotel—as police gave chase. Some time after 5 pm, they were busy making a number of arrests near the Portland Building.
The Police Bureau has officially labeled the protest a "riot"—a term that drew the attention of the Department of Homeland Security last November, when it began watching Portland as a site of alleged domestic terrorism. (That inaccurate term was denounced by local officials, including Mayor Ted Wheeler.)
Police cited Moltov cocktails as one justification for canceling the march permit, but if firebombs were thrown, two WW correspondents at the rally did not see them.
After police declared the march an illegal gathering, smoke grenades and other projectiles were tossed at police with increasing frequency. "You're full of shit! We are the people! You cannot cancel our rights," one Black Bloc protester with a megaphone shouted back at police.
Prior to the march and the riot, Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese dropped by the Park Blocks rally. He said he thought it was important for police to be seen in a supportive capacity at such events, and came because some groups the Sheriff's Office had been working with—namely the Portland VOZ Worker's Education Project—helped organize the rally.
"Just wanted to come out here and celebrate May Day with everyone," Reese told WW.
Although May Day protests traditionally focus on labor issues, many of the speakers at the rally prior to the march expressed solidarity with immigrants and condemned Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
And in a departure from recent Portland protests, few right-wing counter-protesters showed up. The most militant pro-Donald Trump groups that have rallied in the area recently, and clashed with "antifa" (anti-fascist) groups, instead had their sights set on Seattle today.