President Trump Has Reenergized Portland’s Protests

The crowds gathering outside downtown courthouses on July 18 and 19 were as large as any Portland has seen in the past month.

A "wall of moms" confront federal police in downtown Portland on July 19, 2020. (Alex Wittwer)

President Donald Trump deployed federal police to Portland to quell six weeks of protests. He has achieved the opposite effect.

The crowds gathering outside downtown courthouses on July 18 and 19 were as large as any Portland has seen in the past month. The crowd also appeared significantly older than at any previous demonstration.

That's in no small part because reports of aggressive tactics by federal officers—including shooting a protester in the face with a munition, detaining people in rental vans, and tear gassing a county commissioner—have galvanized residents of this city to confront what they see as a military occupation.

Viral videos and photos from Saturday night's protest showed federal police beating a Navy veteran, Christopher David, with batons and tear gassing a crowd that included Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran.

On Sunday night, hundreds of people returned—led by a "wall of moms" who pledged to place their bodies between the feds and young protesters.

A line of yellow shirts—mothers of all ages—stood outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, linking arms, kicking their legs in a chorus line, and joining in chants that decried the U.S. Federal Protective Service.

Edie, a Portland mother expecting a grandchild, said the sight of federal police using tear gas on moms July 18 outraged her. (She declined to give her last name.)

"The wall of moms were in white yesterday, and they were tear gassed and shoved," she said. "So we came in yellow today. and we're alongside the fence telling them: 'Feds go home, the moms are here.'

Edie continued: "The more the police use war crimes, crimes against humanity, anti-democratic [actions], having police take over the three branches of government—legislative, executive and judicial—and prevent the freedom of press, that makes people who have never come out before get angry. We moms say, 'You're not gonna hurt our kids.'"

The renewed energy and wide coalition of this weekend's protests mark a change from when Trump ordered a task force led by the Department of Homeland Security into Portland on June 29. By then, nightly crowds had dwindled to numbers around 100, mostly consisting of devoted leftists and curious onlookers. Reopened barrooms had replaced protests as a cultural hub for some people.

No longer. Some activists, locked in a war with the Portland Police Bureau, continue seeking confrontations with local cops. (One group marched to police union headquarters Saturday night, and someone set a fire inside the building.) But much of the civic and national ire is now focused on the president's men.

On Sunday, as on the previous two nights, federal police responded with copious quantities of tear gas, shrouding downtown in a noxious fog. It's unclear whether gassing larger and larger crowds is satisfying the president's aims.

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