WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.
The sight of bloodied Portland protesters fleeing gas and explosives is keeping Juan C. Chavez up at night—literally. He sets himself a 10 pm curfew but finds himself drawn to his phone as confrontations between riot cops and demonstrators turn violent.
In that way, Chavez isn't unusual. Many Portlanders find themselves with protest-induced insomnia, kept awake by the distant rumble of stun grenades. What sets Chavez apart is that he can do something about it.
As a lawyer with the Oregon Justice Resource Center, Chavez was on the legal team that filed a federal lawsuit this month seeking to block the Portland Police Bureau from from using tear gas, CS gas or other aerosol crowd control agents. On June 9, U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez handed protesters a slight victory, telling the city it could continue to use tear gas or similar substances—but only in narrowly defined circumstances.
Chavez is used to fighting uphill battles.
In May, the OJRC sued the Oregon Department of Corrections, trying to force the release of prisoners to allow for greater social distancing behind bars. It lost, but Gov. Kate Brown last week said she would begin releasing some inmates.
In short, it's an eventful year to be a leftist lawyer. "It's kind of incredible, actually," he says, "that the last two months have really encompassed a lot of my preoccupations of the last seven years: prisons, police and the far right."
WW spoke to Chavez about those topics: the unintended consequences of suing the police, what the coronavirus has in common with a Cascadian megaquake, and why Patriot Prayer hasn't tried to disrupt Black Lives Matter marches. Many of his answers aren't comforting. Maybe don't watch this interview right before bed.
See more Distant Voices interviews here.