There’s no sugarcoating it. What happened in Portland this weekend was bad.
I’d actually been consistently shocked that nobody had yet died during the Portland protests. Despite countless close calls, we made it more than 90 days without a single fatality. And, for years now, these same out-of-town white supremacists have been clashing with local antifascists in street battles. These fights were nasty but never saw a single death.
We all knew that would change at some point. And here we are.
It only took one fool to pull a trigger, but this tragedy was enabled by law enforcement every step of the way. Saturday evening in Downtown Portland was a chaotic, violent mess by design. Law enforcement escorted them in, ignored blatant criminal activity and then escorted them out.
It’s also entirely possible that the man’s life could have been saved: two street medics were attending to his wounds when they were forcefully ejected by police who kicked away their medical supplies. (Warning: The video contains graphic content.) Our police have so much contempt for protesters that they’d rather risk letting someone die than cooperate to try to save his life.
And make no mistake: Ted Wheeler has blood on his hands too. For years, he’s taken a weak “hands off” approach to police misbehavior, especially as it relates to their friendliness with these same far right groups. (Remember when the Portland Police failed to tell him about a sniper nest on a public garage?) For months, he’s failed to take the protests seriously, even last week saying he still thought the uprising would “burn itself out”. And for weeks, he’s allowed the police to claim they don’t have the resources to stop right wing violence, even as they continue to spend absurd amounts of money beating up local protesters night after night.
When leadership refuses to take action, it creates a power vacuum where people create their own rules. Portland’s city government has effectively done nothing to keep the situation from degrading. It’s been three months since this began and the only real policy commitment is still a ballot measure over a review board. (Given how much worse everything is getting while we’re waiting to vote on it, I imagine the board will be quite busy if it passes!) Our City Council has left us to fend for ourselves. This is the result.
The final point I want to make is that the consequences of Saturday’s events extend far beyond the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s been clear for a while now that the state backlash against BLM would eventually spill over and consume all of our politics. The fact that the victim was a member of the far right group Patriot Prayer has all but guaranteed more extremist violence is on the way, and threatening to beat non-violent protesters into submission seems to have become a bipartisan position.
If these efforts succeed, these tactics will become the new normal for how our country treats all activists. Even if you think racial justice isn’t your issue, this affects you.
If you want climate justice, if you want a planet with a future, this is your battle. Don’t you dare back down.