On a rainy Saturday night, about 50 protesters gathered on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard outside the Portland Police Bureau's North Precinct. Fifteen minutes after they arrived, police arrested 26 of them.
The swift arrests of more than half the people in the small crowd marked a new tactic by the Police Bureau—and perhaps signaled that Portland cops are no longer willing to wait and see what spectacle or damage black-clad leftist activists have planned for city property.
The result? Perhaps the shortest protest in 123 nights—15 minutes in total duration—and questions about whether police are overstepping their legal authority.
Kyle Wolfson was one of the protesters arrested. "There was no violence at all, nothing at all," Wolfson tells WW. "[PPB officers] surrounded us and arrested as many of us as possible." Wolfson says that many protesters around him were pepper-sprayed by officers, creating a caustic, crammed environment inside the riot van where arrestees were placed in close proximity.
Portland police spokesman Sgt. Kevin Allen said officers "had the resources tonight" to enforce the law swiftly, and "after multiple warnings, and a pause to allow people a chance to move to the sidewalk, we moved in to move the crowd and made targeted arrests."
Allen added that police were concerned that the protesters, clad head to toe in black, couldn't be clearly seen by oncoming drivers on a rainy night.
But it's clear that police are taking a more aggressive approach as the numbers of protesters dwindle on chilly autumn evenings—and because the protesters are also escalating their tactics.
Specific information about the nightly direct action marches is no longer publicly posted on social media, as greater distinction is made between peaceful demonstrations and "direct action" marches. (Direct action is a term leftist protesters commonly use to describe property damage or setting small fires at police precincts.)
On Oct. 10, activists arrived at the North Precinct building at 10 pm. The precinct has been repeatedly targeted by demonstrators for this year's protests.
About 50 protesters stood in line on the sidewalk against the North Precinct forming a testudo, or turtlelike, formation with umbrellas. Disparaging chants against Portland police, and calls for racial justice ensued, as per the nightly tradition. This reporter did not observe any projectiles being thrown, or any form of physical escalation of force on the part of the protesters.
At approximately 10:05 pm, Portland police announced via a long range acoustic device: "Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is open to vehicular traffic. Immediately vacate the roadway and proceed to the sidewalk. Additionally, do not participate in criminal activity. Those who do not move off Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be subject to citation, arrest or force."
At 10:16 pm, a squad of officers of the Portland Police Rapid Response Team arrived via riot van and bull-rushed the meager crowd, while another squad of officers clad in riot gear charged in from the North Precinct parking area. Orders to "Take custody!" were yelled throughout the ranks of the charging officers as they moved in.
Officers dispersed some members of the press with little distinction from the protesters. People marked as volunteer medics were also arrested.
In effect, police took over 50% of the protest crowd into custody for what was not declared an unlawful assembly. That's a record proportion of protesters, more than half, arrested at a single event.