Violence mars Portland protests, frustrates Black community
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Protesters in this liberal, predominantly white city have taken to the streets peacefully every day for more than five weeks to decry police brutality, but violence by smaller groups is dividing the movement and drawing complaints that some white demonstrators are co-opting the moment.
As the Portland protests enter a second month, they have shifted on several nights from the city’s downtown core to a historically Black neighborhood in North Portland that’s already buckling under the effects of white gentrification and has the most to gain — or lose — from the outrage in the streets.
Late last week, some protesters barricaded the doors to a police precinct a half-block from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and set fire to the building, which also houses Black-owned businesses, including an Ethiopian restaurant and a barber’s school. Two nights later, a potluck at a park in the heart of the Black community morphed into another violent clash with police, who unleashed tear gas to quell the crowd of several hundred people.
The change has angered and frustrated some in the Black community, who say a “white fringe element” is distracting from their message with senseless destruction in a city where nearly three-quarters of residents are white and less than 6% are Black.
“This is NOT the Black Lives Matter movement. This is chaos,” Kali Ladd, executive director of KairosPDX, wrote in a Facebook post. “These white actors are enacting dominance in a different form under the guise of equity … White supremacy has many forms.”
Demonstrations elsewhere in the city have also grown increasingly violent. Early Friday, someone broke the windows of a federal courthouse and threw fireworks that started a fire inside the building.
One prominent Black leader wrote to Mayor Ted Wheeler and said some clashes had unfolded three blocks from his house. He said the problem was with “elements” that were “99% white” and did not represent the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It has nothing to do with helping Black people. These hoodlums are needlessly scaring neighbors and their children,” said Ron Herndon, who has fought for racial justice in Portland for four decades and led a school boycott in 1979 after the city closed predominantly Black schools. “At some point, enough is enough.”
Newly appointed Police Chief Chuck Lovell, who is Black, said the violence in North Portland was “offensive and hurtful” and has cost the city at least $6.2 million in overtime for its officers.
“People in that neighborhood were upset. That’s not something they’re going to tolerate … and they came out and were very vocal,” Lovell said. “I think people sometimes look at the protest movement as one homogeneous group — and there’s definitely a segment here that is very violent.”
The tension over the protests comes amid increasing conflict within the movement itself. Rose City Justice, a coalition that for weeks galvanized thousands of people for peaceful marches and rallies every night, announced last week it will no longer do so after it was criticized, among other things, for sitting down with the police commissioner and mayor to discuss police reform.
The Rose City Justice marches and rallies attracted a diverse crowd of 10,000 people a night at one point.