A Neighbor Describes What Happened When Law Enforcement Stopped Responding to an Armed Encampment in North Portland

He lives less than a block from the occupation, inside the blockades used to seal off neighborhood streets from police.

(Mick Hangland-Skill)

Few recent events in Portland have drawn as much national attention as the Red House Eviction Defense. The armed occupation of three blocks of North Mississippi Avenue interrupted the foreclosure seizure of the "Red House," the home of the Kinneys, a Black and Indigenous family facing eviction during winter amid the pandemic.

The standoff has become a flashpoint of gentrification, racial inequity and radical activism in Portland. The occupiers initially arrived in the neighborhood in early September. But the occupation grew significantly in size and energy after Multnomah County sheriff's deputies and Portland police officers, following a court order, arrived in the early morning hours of Dec. 8 to evict the Kinneys.

Few people had as closer a view of the occupation as a man living near the Red House. That neighbor reached out to WW to respond to our account of the eviction defense ("Beyond the Barricades," Dec. 16, 2020). He asked not to be identified out of fear of political reprisal, but WW independently confirmed he lives less than a block from the encampment, inside the blockades used to seal off neighborhood streets from police. This is his story, as told to WW reporter Tess Riski.

Between 7 and 9 am on Dec. 8, a large crowd of individuals started to build after they got the news about the eviction. And it grew and it grew. The police were slowly drawing down. That crowd came through the backyard of an adjacent house, and they were throwing bottles and rocks and bricks and paint balloons at the police and screaming at them and threatening them about the eviction.

Police backed down the hill because they were outnumbered by the number of protesters. They pushed the police down into the street, down by the Mississippi Triangle, and they surrounded them.

I thought they were going to beat the cops in the street, and it was one of the scariest things I've seen in real life. I had never seen anything like that in America. At that moment, I was like: This is completely spun out of control, and this is really dangerous.

Then the large group went back to the Red House, and more people came in and they began to rip down the fence on the property. They went inside the house themselves and started pulling stuff out to build the barricades. They started carrying out refrigerators and washers and dryers.

They blocked the alleys and they blocked the side street of my house. They wouldn't allow us to move our cars because they had fully barricaded us in. They said they had basically claimed the area and we weren't able to leave.

On Saturday last week, an individual went around and broke the Ring cameras off of people's front doors, on their doorbells, with a crowbar.

It was just a huge, huge, raging party occupation: giant bonfires on the hill, bonfires everywhere in the street. They built the barricades. They had weapons behind it. They had bottles and rocks and Molotov cocktails and all that stuff.

They had sentries, essentially, that are posted up there. They had an individual with an assault rifle positioned right next to our driveway. They have people regularly back at their station, but they also patrol around the block with weapons and tactical gear and bulletproof vests. They watch us, you know, and they're regularly standing around as we move in and out of our backyard.

I could go out front on foot, but there were several people outside, and they were armed and they would watch us. They'd follow us around the block. And they were very suspicious that we were coordinating with the police. Like I said, they had guns up front, too, in addition to everyone inside of the zone.

Generally, they didn't say much to us. They knew we weren't happy that they were there, but basically we had kind of cut a deal with them that they needed to keep some distance from our property and not trespass or create fire risks and hazards next to it. And, in exchange, we were leaving them alone. That was kind of the truce that we had.

Everyone thought the cops were going to come down, so they were prepping for that. The side streets were lined with tires and wood that they were soaking in gasoline and lighter fluid in anticipation that, when the police would come, they were going to light it on fire and create a big flaming barricade to prevent them from coming in.

They had bonfires on and adjacent to our property next to the gasoline-soaked tires. We were asking them to put it out—and they refused to do so and would yell at us.

They got really hostile and told me to fuck off and that we were part of the problem, or that we were just another gentrifier. We were scared they were going to attack us in our house.

If you had a problem, or you were scared for your safety or that you were going to be attacked, you had to negotiate with the individuals or the leaders themselves, because the police would not come out proactively because of concerns about security and the situation escalating. If you wanted them to stop, you had to go down and negotiate with them yourselves.

There's this notion that the neighbors generally were happy about this, or thought it was cool or were OK with it. Everyone who was directly surrounded by this was really, really scared and nervous. And people kept their mouths shut because they were worried about their safety and protecting their homes.

I was pretty impressed with actually how quick it came down. But everything is still here. Everything's still trashed. Everything's still covered in graffiti. Everything's a mess. My house, my sidewalk, everything's covered in garbage now.

If I'd known about this, I would've done what works in the city. I would have gone and found Mayor Ted Wheeler in person and screamed at him until he did something about it, because that's the message that's being sent to people as a result of this.

If you want the city to do things, you either have to get a bunch of guns and take over a neighborhood and threaten violence, or you go find Wheeler in real life or Commissioner Dan Ryan or whoever else and you surround their home and you scream at them and harass them until they give you what you want. Otherwise, they hide from you. It's incredibly disappointing and unfortunate that that's what the city's decision-making has come to.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.