For more than 100 consecutive nights, from May through October, Portlanders gathered in the city streets to protest the killing of George Floyd and violence committed by police against Black people. President Donald Trump sent federal officers to quell the unrest. Even more people demonstrated. Tear gas couldn't send them home—eventually, the smoke from wildfires would. The crowds of thousands dissipated. The groundswell of support receded. The protest movement fractured, and some its members grew fixated on vandalism. But the Black Lives Matter protests defined and galvanized Portland: It will be impossible to forget the sight of mothers in gas masks confronting the federal government. And for these four people, the racial justice uprising will be more than a memory.
Christopher Frison still has nightmares.
On July 27, Frison says, he walked to Room 428 at the Residence Inn by Marriott in North Portland, where he has worked as a maintenance man for nearly 30 years. Frison, 60, was responding to a request to unclog a toilet.
He knocked on the door and identified himself as maintenance. The guest inside the room—a Department of Homeland Security agent identified in court documents as Joseph Jones—swung open the door and, with an "aggressive look on his face," pointed a semi-automatic handgun at Frison's chest, according to a $1 million tort claim notice Frison filed against DHS in October.
Frison says he has not returned to work since the incident occurred, except a few times to file paperwork. Without steady income since July, he says, he's been struggling to make ends meet. He may need to return to work soon.
"I have a lot of nightmares, waking up screaming, 'Don't shoot me!'" Frison says, adding that he now suffers from insomnia and migraines. "That's where I'm at. I'm struggling real hard. And I don't know what to do but to go back to work. This is very frustrating."
Frison says he is going to therapy and making progress. He's now comfortable leaving his house, for example. He says his young grandchildren visited him from Arizona shortly after the incident, and another grandson took him fishing: "The kids helped me feel a lot better."
DHS has not yet responded to the tort claim, according to Frison's attorney, Michael Fuller. Frison tells WW that Jones, the DHS agent, contacted the Marriott regional management and asked if he could apologize to Frison for the incident. Frison says he declined the offer.
"That man tried to shoot me, literally," Frison says. "What did I do to this man for him to pull a gun on me?" TESS RISKI.
Wise, 30, recalls treating four head injuries as a volunteer medic during Portland's racial justice protests. He also had to show others how to treat his own, when a federal officer shot him in the head with a tear gas canister July 20.
Wise, who stands 6-foot-5, was checking on protesters to see if anyone needed medical attention right before he was hit. "I started walking backwards while facing the police. A federal officer saw me stand up—because I am fairly taller than everyone else—and aimed whatever weapon they use to launch tear gas canisters and shot one directly at my head. He 100% did that on purpose."
Wise had someone conduct a neurological assessment and had another person treat and wrap the wound. Just 10 minutes later, he was back in the field, flushing tear gas out of protesters' eyes. It wasn't until the next day he started to notice symptoms of a concussion.
Several months later, he has trouble talking on the phone, his memory tends to fail him, and he often feels lethargic. He had to take three months' leave from work and still can't work full time.
"I had to slow down a bit after I got shot in the head," Wise says. "It takes a while to heal from brain damage, and I'm still working on it. There were things I had to reteach myself to do, like talking. I still stutter a lot on phone calls."
Wise became a volunteer medic starting May 29 after seeing people get seriously hurt at a protest the night before. His next year will be spent in a different venue: federal court. On July 22, Wise and three other street medics filed a lawsuit in federal court against defendants that include the city of Portland, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
"During the course of protests regarding protesting police brutality, we just saw an unreasonable amount of police brutality," Wise says. Yet he sees an upside: Americans are talking about violence committed by police officers. "The fact that these conversations are being had," he says, "that's amazing to me." LATISHA JENSEN.
The aftermath of Phillip Wenzel's collision with lawmen sounds like a country song: He lost his job, he lost his privacy, and he's facing federal time. That's a rough year for a paralegal.
On Aug. 14, Wenzel was tackled by a half-dozen police officers in the streets of North Portland. As WW reported a month later, his mug shot and job description were posted the next day on Twitter by Andy Ngo, a conservative pundit with an enormous online following. Soon, Wenzel was receiving threats. So was his wife, Erin, and his employer. His law firm laid him off.
"We've been lying low and, to be honest, we've been staying at home with the blinds closed," Wenzel told WW in September. "I can get over Twitter trolls, but what gives me the most pause is the 1% of them that have genuine threats."
Wenzel, who had attended 10 previous protests and played in the drum line, was now caught in the unusually toxic politics of a presidential election. A month prior, President Donald Trump sent in agents of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to tamp down on racial justice protests that had, by that point, begun to wane.
The federal agents' arrival reignited Portlanders' fervor for police reform. But it also led to serious criminal consequences for protesters caught in the crosshairs.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for Oregon, headed by Billy Williams, charged dozens of protesters with federal crimes, including at least four charged with assault of an officer for shining a green laser in officers' eyes, according to court documents.
In total, the U.S. Attorney's Office has convicted just two Portland protesters of demonstration-related crimes, according to Kevin Sonoff, a spokesman for the agency.
Others wait to see whether the feds will still pursue cases under a Biden administration. Among them is Wenzel, who was charged Sept. 28 with one federal count of civil disorder. That carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Wenzel declined to comment on his case. He expressed gratitude to his colleagues who quit their jobs in solidarity with him; he's accepted a job at their new practice.
"I've been glad to meet the people that I've met," he says. And he still sees value in the protests. "I hope it's something that matters. I hope that more change is to come." AARON MESH and TESS RISKI.
Few groups in Oregon have been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than prisoners. To date, more than 1,900 of Oregon's 13,100 inmates—or roughly 14%—have tested positive for the virus since March. Twenty have died after testing positive, including one man within two days of his scheduled release.
But the events of 2020 changed the lives of other inmates in a different way. Some of them got out.
Due to the pandemic—and perhaps as a result of enhanced political will brought on by calls for prison abolition this year—the governor commuted the sentences of roughly 250 inmates since June. Some were within two to six months of their scheduled release, and others were considered medically vulnerable.
One of them was Mark Bouvia, who was serving time for delivery of methamphetamine. After multiple delays to his commutation, Bouvia, 62, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and scar tissue on his lungs, was released Dec. 17, seven months early.
"It's the best Christmas present I could have ever got," Mark Bouvia told WW three days after his release. "I lived through it, thank God."
Gov. Brown's third major round of commutations came Dec. 17, according to Liz Merah, a spokeswoman for the governor, when 117 prisoners received the green light for early release. Of those 117, Merah says, 33 were within two months of release, and 84 were medically vulnerable.
"It went really well," says Mark's wife, Diana. "I'm glad he got out when he did." TESS RISKI.
Correction: The print version of this story incorrectly stated that Phillip Wenzel was fired from his job at a law firm. In fact, the firm laid him off, citing a loss of work leading to a reduction in staff. WW regrets the error.