What Have Six Weeks of Portland Protests Wrought?

These nightly marches and confrontations with police have upended certainties about what can be accomplished in Oregon politics through protests.

CANDID CAMERA: A legal observer films an arrest in downtown Portland on July 4. (Nathan Howard)

When people gather in downtown Portland on July 8—as they have for the 39 previous nights—the protests against racism and police brutality will become the city's longest-running demonstration in at least two decades.

The 40 nights of protest eclipse the 39-day takeover of Lownsdale and Chapman squares by the Occupy movement for economic justice in 2011.

The same downtown parks are now the staging ground for a demand to dismantle Portland's police force after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Nine years ago, Occupiers served bowls of chili at the foot of a statue depicting a pioneer family, called The Promised Land. On the Fourth of July in 2020, protesters charred that statue in a bonfire. Some demonstrators argue the statue glorifies white settlers who stole the land from Indigenous people.

Are these protests building a new world, or merely destroying an old one? That's a question that has increasingly divided Portlanders—protesters, police and politicians—for the past six weeks.

July 4, 2020. (Nathan Howard)

"When I hear about something being burned down, that is an act that has always been used against Black people," longtime civil rights leader Ron Herndon said June 26. "They burnt down our businesses, our churches and our schools. That is a tactic that has been used to destroy Black people, not help Black people."

Yet these nightly marches and confrontations with police have upended certainties about what can be accomplished in Oregon politics through protests. The Portland City Council shrank the police budget by $15 million.

The police chief stepped down so a Black deputy could take her place. The Oregon Legislature passed criminal justice reforms that had been shoved aside for years.

It can be easy to lose track of those achievements in the nightly tumult. So WW looked back over the past six weeks to review significant moments, both on the streets and in terms of policy, that have reshaped this city.

What have six weeks ofprotests wrought?

May 29: Protests against police brutality begin in Portland following the killing of George Floyd. The evening starts with a peaceful vigil for Floyd in Northeast Portland. But later in the night, protesters travel downtown. Some people break into and set fire to the Multnomah County Justice Center. After police declare a riot and deploy tear gas, rioters loot commercial buildings, including the Apple Store and Louis Vuitton.

June 2: Thousands of protesters hold a "die-in" on the Burnside Bridge, where they lie flat and in silence for more than eight minutes—the length of time Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin held his knee on George Floyd's neck before he died. They demand the defunding of the Portland Police Bureau.

June 4: Mayor Ted Wheeler announces he has ousted all school resource officers from the three school districts in the city: Portland Public Schools and the David Douglas and Parkrose districts. PPS Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero is instrumental in removing the SROs from his district.

June 5: PPB deploys a long-range acoustic device, or LRAD, a sonic weapon that emits a deafening sound to disperse protesters. Wheeler bans the use of sonic weapons.

June 6: Wheeler implements restrictions on the use of tear gas by Portland police but stops short of banning it outright. He says police may only use gas if "there is a serious and immediate threat to life safety, and there is no other viable alternative for dispersal." His restriction follows a federal lawsuit filed by the Black activist group Don't Shoot PDX.

June 8: Portland Police Chief Jami Resch steps down from her post after six months on the job and cedes command to Lt. Chuck Lovell, a Black man and longtime Portland police officer. "He's the exact right person at the exact right moment," Resch says of Lovell.

June 10: Organizers gather in the federal plaza across the street from City Hall and demand $50 million in cuts to the Portland police budget.

June 16: Multnomah County District Attorney Rod Underhill announces his early retirement in the wake of protests against police brutality. Reform-minded DA-Elect Mike Schmidt will take office five months earlier than planned, on Aug. 1.

June 17: By a 3-1 vote, the Portland City Council approves $15 million in cuts to PPB's budget. The lone "no" vote is Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who calls for even greater cuts to the police budget.

June 25: Hundreds of protesters barricade PPB's North Precinct in an hourslong standoff. Police deploy crowd control munitions like tear gas and rubber bullets. The next day, city leaders, including Wheeler and longtime civil rights activist Ron Herndon, condemn the destruction caused by some protesters.

June 26: The Oregon Legislature, in step with the People of Color Caucus, passes a package of criminal justice reform bills that includes restrictions on chokeholds and a statewide online database for officer misconduct. One bill prohibits the use of tear gas to disperse crowds, except in situations that constitute a riot.

June 30: Protesters surround Portland Police Association headquarters. For the first time since protests began May 29, the bureau declares the protest a riot and deploys tear gas near North Lombard Street.

July 2: Federal agencies, including the U.S. Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Homeland Security Investigations, are deployed to Portland protests. Oregon Public Broadcasting reports federal agents made arrests. Multnomah County Jail records reviewed by WW show the U.S. Marshals Service arrested at least nine protesters over the July 4 weekend.

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