United States: Communities resist Trump’s federal occupation of Portland

BLM protest in Portland, Oregon on July 24. Photo: Beth Nakamura/Twitter

Unidentified federal agents continue their campaign of lawless violence against Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland, Oregon, causing the protests to grow in reaction.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump is threatening to send more agents into other cities to wreak havoc.

Trump’s poll numbers are dropping, due, in part, to his utter failure concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. So he is seeking to divert attention and bolster his stature amongst his base (as a strongman autocrat who can crush the BLM uprising) by unleashing thugs dressed in camouflage fatigues against largely peaceful protesters.

Trump portrays the nation’s cities as “out of control” because of the wave of protests that erupted after the police murder of George Floyd. He labels the protesters as “anarchists, who hate America”.

“I’m going to do something – that I can tell you,” Trump told journalists. “Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these – Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats.”

He went on: “All run, really, by very liberal Democrats … by [the] radical left.”

Brutality

In Portland, footage emerged of agents beating people with batons, firing large amounts of tear gas and so-called “non-lethal” projectiles.

One protester holding up a speaker was hit in the head by one such projectile. His skull was fractured.

A naval veteran, who came to the protests because of what the agents were doing, put on his Navy sweatshirt and hat to identify himself, thinking the agents would not attack him. He wanted to engage them in a dialogue, but was met with a barrage of batons and pepper-spray. One of his hands was broken.

Agents in unmarked vans have snatched people off the street. They didn’t know if they were being kidnapped by right-wing gangs, who often wear camouflage.

Portland has been home to racist groups like the Proud Boys. In 2017, shortly after Trump took office, one such “Alt-Right” supporter tried to kill two Black teenagers on public transport, but was stopped by white bystanders. The white nationalist turned his knife on them, killing two people.

After protesters were snatched off the streets by the agents, they were taken to a federal courthouse, questioned and released after a few hours, with no explanation or charges being laid. It was just to terrify and intimidate.

Community resistance

Protests in Portland had largely been dying out, as in other cities, before the Feds arrived. Since then, they have grown again. Last weekend, a group of protesters’ mothers formed what they called a “Wall of Moms” to shield protests from the thugs in fatigues.

One of the “Moms” told CBS News: “Their actions are terrifying,” referring to the federal agents. “We, as a democracy, we need to stand up. I am 60 years old. I probably shouldn’t be here in public [because of COVID-19]. But, this is beyond acceptable.”

Democratic officials -- from Oregon’s governor to Portland’s mayor -- have demanded the federal agents be removed, to no avail. The movement was protesting against these very same officials, and the police, before the federal agents arrived.

Afro-indigenous organiser Lilith Sinclair told Democracy Now! on July 21: “It’s hard the encompass the depth of what we’ve experienced in the streets of Portland.

“This movement originally started with a single Black mom coming out into the streets and leading the call for an occupation of the federal courthouse to demand change. That has swelled into a movement, thousands strong, that has united so many of our people here.

“What we’ve seen is a continuous escalation against our protesters. But something that is important for us to understand is that we’ve been facing severe police brutality from our local police force, for years.

“[It] started with our local police force engaging in not only intimidation tactics, but violent brutality against our protesters. We have officers using flash bang grenades, repeatedly. [These stun and disorient people, with a loud noise and bright flash. They have severed hands and fingers, induced heart attacks, and sometimes kill.]

“Also deploying CS gas and other munitions -- tear gas, pepper spray bullets and more. This has been a long-term engagement with a militarised police force. The federal occupation has escalated it.

“We’re seeing these disappearances. These unmarked vehicles going around the streets are full of men in uniforms with no badges, no IDs. They refuse to even answer the question ‘Are you or are you not law enforcement?’ And it’s left the people of Portland not only worried about their safety but feel that our fight is justified.

“This is occurring during an international global health pandemic and the push to reopen by not just Republicans but Democrats too. In Oregon, there was reopening, and then we saw people, weeks later, experiencing higher rates in cases, being once again laid off from their jobs, being once again failed by the unemployment system.

Sinclair explained how the escalation of violence and lack of action by local officials is frustrating Portland residents and bigger numbers are coming out onto the streets.

“The people have a moment to understand the failures of this capitalist, white supremacist system, because they have nothing but time on their hands, said Sinclair. “The movement is swelling. We saw the mums come out. Last night it was the dad bloc, a lot of amazing folks that came downtown after watching people get brutalised on a nightly basis.

“We are spending our nights in terror. We can’t sleep on one side of the city because of the flash bangs, and tear gas across the entire city. It’s affecting our houseless community, its affecting our neighbourhoods.

“It’s not been addressed by our state and local officials, except for well-meaning words [calling for the federal agents to be removed], which is causing a rightful sense of frustration and anger, and causing the protests to grow.”

How will people elsewhere respond, if Trump carries out his threats to send more federal agents into more cities in the coming days?

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