The night after Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd saw little of the anticipated chaos on the Portland streets that caused Mayor Ted Wheeler to declare a state of emergency. Nor did jubilant crowds celebrate a moment of justice.
Instead, Portland witnessed what has become a nightly routine: about 100 people in black bloc garb to disguise their identities, shattering a few dozen windows and squaring off with riot cops.
Wednesday night was a distant echo of the marches that defined last summer, which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets in protest of racist policing.
But it reflects what the city’s protest scene has become: less than 200 in number, rent by infighting over tactics, and defined in the public eye by those in its ranks who damage property to make their point.
That point was still on display Wednesday evening: Two protesters stood in the center of Southwest 2nd Avenue, holding a banner with the handwritten name of Ma’Khia Bryant, the 16-year-old Black girl shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio, earlier in the day.
Some protesters in black bloc clothing ordered members of the press to depart the area, before spray-painting a line on the pavement around the gathered press members who didn’t want to leave with the words “Press Jail” and “No Press”.
Other protesters disagreed with such actions, prompting arguments within the crowd.
“If they touch you, I’ll do something!” a protester reassured members of the press. “They play video games all day! Fuck them!”
Eventually, a contingent of protesters in black bloc split from the crowd and marched North through downtown Portland. Members within the crowd smashed the windows of two Starbucks coffee shops, prompting the Portland police to declare an unlawful assembly.
Portland police officers from the rapid response team intercepted the small crowd via riot van and bicycles at the intersection of Southwest 6th Ave and Jefferson Street. A scuffle broke out when a protester punched a Portland police sergeant in the face. The sergeant fell to the ground immediately, as other officers tackled the assailant. One arresting officer unleashed a flurry of punches on the arrestee’s head from behind.
Portland police made a total of two arrests during the dispersal operation before departing the intersection, leaving a small and scattered group of protesters. The remaining crowd set two trash cans on fire before departing of their own accord.
Broken windows, trash cans on fire, and the flashing sirens of police vehicles—that’s no change from many nights of protests in the past year in downtown Portland. That reflects what many police abolition protesters also feel about the verdict of the Chauvin trial. Nothing has really changed.