It is important to know the political and physical geography of today’s events.
First, there were five distinct groups.
The Trump supporters were based in Terry Schrunk Plaza. They tended to wear flags, fatigues and red Trump hats. A handful of minorities were present.
Surrounding them were four different groups.
A peace group began their protests outside Portland City Hall. The diversity in this crowd ranged from different ethnicities, to clothing, to age (young children and their parents, teenagers, millennial, boomers, and a group of 80+ year olds who have been part of Portland protests for decades.) By 11:30, when I arrived, City Hall walkway and the sidewalk in front were packed, making it difficult to walk along the sidewalk. The crowd shortly was filling one of the lanes of traffic along 4th avenue. A number of religious and ethnic community leaders gave speeches. Chanting and loudspeakers were directed towards the small group of Trump supporters who came to the west end of the park with signs and flags. This was, by far, the largest of the anti-Trump groups.
On the east side of Schrunk Plaza a group made up of Union members and an older crowd with a megaphone taunted the Trump supporters closer to the stage in the plaza. The chanting was robust from both sides.
And in Chapman Park there were two groups, though at times difficult to distinguish between them. The color of the day was black. Some were covered head to toe. Others wore t-shirts with slogans attacking both the Trump administration and the Portland police. There were a number in the park who were there to protest the Trump rally and call for peace. And then there were those itching for a fight: Angry at Trump, his supporters, the media, and the Portland Police. Perhaps especially the Portland Police.
The largest area with direct contact between the opposing protestors was between SW 4th and SW. 3rd on Madison. That is where the largest conflict occurred. It made sense this was the area that police heavily patrolled. A concentrated line of police in riot gear spaced just a few feet apart, three to five feet off the sidewalk. At times one lane of the street included patrol cars or vans with running boards and handles on the outside that acted as transport for twelve or more police. One lane was always open to cars on SW 4th, 3rd, and Madison. That made it easy for police and security teams from at least three of the groups to ask, (Yes, “Ask”, This is Portland) people to stay out of the street. Those in Chapman Square, Schrunk Plaza, and along Madison Street had either a barrier of police in riot gear or yellow police incident tape to show them where the demarcation lines were.
Perhaps the most obvious part about the Portland police presence was whom they were watching. The anti-Trump demonstrators outnumbered the Trump rally by estimates of 20:1. And the police approach was clearly that Trump supporters were considered in danger. Police stood facing Chapman sometimes shoulder to shoulder. To the east and west of Shrunk Plaza they were not as concentrated, 8-10 officers with one or two facing the Trump supporters. The rest focused on the peace group at City Hall or the union chanters at the Federal building.
That focus was commented on constantly. Along with those comments was a memory of the action several weeks ago when buses were ready to transport Trump marchers back to the starting point when they marched through a multi-ethnic neighborhood chanting anti-immigrant slogans. No riot police presence was evident then, so police are seen as protecting Trump supporters while aggressively agitating those against the Trump administration.
About 30 minutes before the scheduled end of the Trump rally things began to change significantly.
I stood at the Northwest corner of SW 4th and Madison starting around noon. I could see straight down the line of the police facing Chapman Square. I could also see the peace groups gathered at City Hall and the small contingent of Trump supporters in constant shouting. I could see into Chapman Square itself only a few feet. Lots of black clad people concentrated in the SW corner of the square, making it hard to see much in the center.
It was a busy corner.
For a time, there was almost a joyous atmosphere to the crowd. But it was not without its tension.
At one point, as I was talking to a friend, a group of Trump supporters carrying various flags and paraphernalia came through the crowd outside City Hall. They made it a point to shoulder their way pushing people. When they got across the street, one of them had his red hat knocked off of his head. It fell to the ground and a heavyset black clad fellow in his 20’s grabbed the hat and started to walk away with it. My friend intervened and told him, “We don’t do that,” effectively de-escalating the incident and sending the anti-Trump guy across the street to Chapman Square and the Trump supporter on his way north on 4th.
A white truck circled the blocks several times. It seemed to want someone to get agitated as it constantly sped up to trap people in crosswalks.
A number of individual incidents took place with police isolating people for a time and searching bags, taking away poles, and then releasing them.
Then the scene got intense around 3:20.
Scores more police arrived with insignia from several agencies. A loudspeaker announced the “Because of Criminal activity, people need to move to the center of Chapman Square.” Something had happened. We could not see what that was from the corner next to the Portland Building.
Standing where I was, NOT in Chapman Square, across the street, I figured I’d be able to watch the situation. But that was not to be.
As I stood there, I was suddenly pushed by a Police officer with a baton telling me that I had to move. I said, “the announcement said people in the Square. I am not in the Square. And I am observing as an elected official.” (I had my little magnetic nametag on my right side of my shirt.)
His response was to say, “Hello Lew. We’ve met. But you still need to leave this area.”
So I started walking north along 4th watching the Square.
It became clear that more was going on there. Within a few minutes several large reports rang out. Smoke of some form was evident. Angry voices rang out across the park. I could see batons being swung. I could not see whether people or objects were being hit. I called to one of the activists I saw in the center of the square to come my direction. He was helping a woman who was clearly disoriented and upset. They came under the chain that surrounds the park and into the sidewalk and street, yelling at the police for what was likely tear gas or pepper spray of come kind.
What sounded like a series of pellets being fired could be heard.
The next announcement said that police had been assaulted and that the gathering had been declared illegal.
Eventually the line of police stopped a few feet in from Main Street while still in Chapman Square.
By that time I’d seen a number of water bottles and rocks thrown at the police. I did not see who threw them. But they landed near the front of the police line.
A new announcement said Lonsdale Square had also seen criminal activity and that it too must be cleared.
I started walking that way. At one point a group of folks threw several newspaper vending machines into the center of the street. Then came several orange cones.
Remembering the fire that was started at the May Day march, I walked directly over to the growing pile and stood there for a while. A masked friend from the crowd yelled at me to watch out because tear gas weapons were pointed at me in the center of the street. I decided to stand there a while to see if anything more would take place. Nothing did.
I left to go closer to the stand off line.
There a few individuals were yelling at police. One attempted to get others to join him at the front of the line. It was only marginally successful.
But something had changed.
The large group of black clad people gathered to march north along 4th.
The police line dispersed and moved back to the Madison Street location.
I looked down 4th to see the group chanting and heading towards Morrison, possibly Burnside, with Police in pursuit.
(Note that because 4th and 3rd avenues had been blocked, the peace groups at City Hall and the Federal building were separated from the smaller groups in Chapman Square. I wonder how they would have handled the pushing and shoving. Some folks had simply sat down in Chapman Square, only to be moved forcibly with batons.)
By this time the Trump rally was officially over.
It was clear from looking across the street that those in Schrunk Plaza were agitated and looking to the police for directions out of there. Those directions had a small number walking out the SE exit and up Jefferson Street.
I walked up to City Hall. (Hearing along the way from ACLU legal observers that flash and tear gas canisters had been used around 4th and Morrison and that the group had been surrounded and everyone arrested.)
At City Hall the numbers had diminished somewhat, but the enthusiasm had not. Chants were still going.
I do not believe the group at City Hall knew that the Trump rally had ended until police started letting a larger number of folks out of the Plaza on the west side.
Anti-Trump demonstrators formed a gauntlet for them to go through for a time on the corner of Jefferson and 4th. There were a few punches thrown before police broke up that gauntlet. Only to see another one form half a block down. And then still another skirmish in the next block. That seemed to be the case along a path that went several blocks south and then doubled back on 5th avenue to the Portland building.
By the time I got to Madison again, a pepper spray incident had taken place involving the police. Demonstrators were treating several people, including a photographer.
As I left down town I unsuccessfully tried to find the larger group that had moved north. Helicopters were circling. I did not find them. But I saw both brief skirmishes and measured conversations taking place throughout the downtown.
Take a ways:
If the message was that Portlanders reject the Trump agenda, that came through loud and clear.
Were the Black clad folks heading into the streets to create more problems? Possibly.
Did Portland police give clear directions? No.
Was the strategy simply to move the more volatile elements away from each other before the end of the Trump rally? Well, that worked.
I’ve been told that at least one brick was thrown at police prior to the closing of Chapman Square. That would likely be grounds for some action. Was it over reaction?
Did the isolation approach work for the five rally groups? The peaceful groups continued to make their views clear. At what cost to future demonstrations? I know one former state senator who lost a great deal of respect for the Portland police after being manhandled and tear gassed while standing in what she had been told was a safe place to be.
I have not seen the media coverage beyond one article that spent ¾ of the time talking with and about the Trump supporters. I get it. The huge numbers of people protesting them were there because of them. And I think it was also likely that the reporter had not met or talked with that group before. I’d also say that the reporter decided to lump all of the protestors in one easy meme rather than understand the differences and how that played out on the streets and parks downtown. And of course the adrenaline spikes when there is action. Understanding the deeper issues or differences takes time for broadcast news and greater history and awareness for print. These days’ reporters are given neither time nor support for providing context.
Finally. It, frankly, could have been a lot worse.
Lew Frederick, Oregon State Senator (via Facebook)
Late 20’s Douche (hat on backwards): Don’t take any of those tougher courses. Avoid anything related to those engineering.
Young Kid: ok
L20D: What degree do you want to go for?
YK: I really like chemical engineering but my mom says I should just get a business degree.
L2D: She’s right.