People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Other Information Contact info
Police Brutality Against Occupy Portland Exposes
Since the birth of the Occupy Wall Street movement on September 17, the multiple cities where Occupy activism spread have seen various reactions from police, in many cases over-reactions that include outright brutality and other misconduct (New York, Oakland, UC Davis as just three examples). In each instance, repression by police has only led to the movement growing stronger. That being the case, one would have thought that the Portland Police would have combined the lessons of May Day 2000 (PPR #21), the Bush and anti-Iraq War protests of 2002-2003 (PPR #28&29), their newfound penchant for "stepping back" (see "Reese's Pieces"), and the experiences of other cities to avoid such blatant displays of violence. But alas, it is not so.
The iconic moment of the PPB's militaristic response came on November 17, when Sgt. Jeff McDaniel (Portland Mercury, November 24) released a huge stream of pepper spray from a red fire extinguisher type canister into the open mouth of 20 year old Liz Nichols. The Oregonian's photo of that incident went viral world-wide. Not as widely circulated, Nichols told the Oregonian (November 18) that "a policewoman jabbed her in the ribs with a baton and pressed it against her throat" before the pepper blast.
This incident happened just days after the Portland Police, along with officers from nearly every other jurisdiction in the area, descended on the two downtown parks held by Occupy protestors for five weeks. The cops were in riot gear, on horses, holding batons, and repeating warnings that they would use chemical agents to disperse the nonviolent, unarmed crowd. Fortunately for the Occupiers, the Mayor had given two days' notice of a deadline to leave, so well over 5000 people came to the site, which until then had held about 250-300 protestors on a daily basis. This made the clearing out at a midnight deadline impossible. When dawn broke and Occupiers mostly went to get rest and/or nourishment, riot police flooded the parks, hitting some with batons and dragging off the movement's sign language interpreter, who complained they had re-injured his previously broken back.
Ahead of the November 13 deadline, Portland Copwatch and its parent group, Peace and Justice Works, signed a modified community letter to the Chief and City Council calling on them not to force the protestors out of the parks. We referred to "previous incidents of police violence against people which has cost the city hundreds of thousands in lawsuit payouts, and the officer who righteously refused to fire his less-lethal 'beanbag' shotgun at protestors on May Day, 2000" (Officer Tom Powell, to whom we awarded a "Spike Lee Do The Right Thing Award" in PPR #23). We then concluded our version of the community letter noting: "The Nuremburg principles set a precedent that 'just following orders' does not absolve people of criminal conduct; we call upon the police to search their conscience before taking action against people peaceably exercising first amendment rights."
After the eviction, it was reported to us that numerous officers were complaining that they did not want to be there, to which our response would be, "then you should tell your boss you won't obey unlawful and immoral orders, and go home."
Unsurprisingly, much of the push for the Mayor and Chief to clear the parks came from repeated degrading editorials in the Oregonian, the Portland Business Alliance, and folks like former Police Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who invoked the fear of having the sight of homeless people and protest signs scare off holiday shoppers. Other pressure came from the Portland Police Association (PPA), who took the party line to blame the protestors for their 12-hour days and revoked days off, rather than realizing that the political decision to over-police Occupy was responsible for fraying their nerves and running up the overtime bill. Besides, since when have the rank-and-file complained about making massive overtime? (See "Rapping Back" for more on the PPA.)
Other incidents of police aggression included the arrest of 27 people at Jamison Square in the city's wealthy Pearl District, which happened early on the morning of October 30, again way past a midnight deadline, but still with plenty of supporters (and media) looking on. While not as overt and brutal as other cities or even previous Portland events, it would be a mistake to call Portland's response "peaceful" or "restrained." Nonetheless, this is how the Mayor and Chief described the eviction at their November 14 news conference (also "Reese's Pieces").
The police presence had been fairly steady from the day the encampment first set up on October 6, eventually including an ongoing patrol and daily news releases documenting incidents such as fights, drug use, and overflowing porta-potties as part of the lead-up to dismantling the site.
Up until now, this might seem to resemble many other articles in the People's Police Report, but there is a twist: right up until the time that Mayor Adams announced the deadline, the Occupy folks had open lines of communication with City Hall and the Chief, and some were shaking hands with, playing games with, thanking, and depending on security from the police. While an institutional and historic analysis shows that the police's role in society is to defend the wealthiest 1% against the other 99%, we do believe that the decision by Occupy Portland to try this approach has created some new avenues for dialogue. We hope they were not surprised, however, when the harsh realities set in and the riot police did the bidding of the powers that be. In any case, while we condemn the police actions, we have to thank them for turning on a whole new generation of activists to the issue of police accountability.
Meanwhile, at about the same time Occupy Portland was setting up shop, a group of homeless rights activists opened up a private rest area at the edge of Portland's Chinatown called "Right 2 Dream Too" (or R2D2). Using the plot of land owned by former Cindy's bookstore proprietors Dan Cossette and Michael Wright, who for years have been engaged in a fight against Randy Leonard and his "HIT Squad" (PPR #49), the group set up a site for people to sleep behind rows of used wooden doors. At first, they created quite a stir and negative backlash from the neighboring businesses, but because their internal policies forbid drugs and alcohol, were not plagued with the same police presence as Occupy. In addition, the fact that they are on private property makes it a lot harder for the City to evict them.
and "I don't see no riot here, take off your riot gear."
Portland Copwatch Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability
through citizen action.
Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.