Eugene-area protest organizers clashed with Springfield Police and counter-protesters Wednesday evening during a planned demonstration resulting in injuries and multiple arrests.
Black Unity, an organization created by people of color in Lane County following the killing of George Floyd, organized a demonstration in the Thurston neighborhood of Springfield after a community member had reported to one of the group’s organizers a skeleton seen hanging by a noose in a resident’s yard.
“We really wanted to make sure we were making a powerful statement to that community about the noose and these subconscious things that we do that we might not think are racist but come off as racist,” said Martin Allums, one of the leaders with Black Unity. “So, we were going to have an educational protest going through the Thurston area, just like how we usually do in Eugene, where we’ll pick a neighborhood, we’ll go through, pick a couple of spots to sit down and talk and move on.”
Allums said Black Unity was aware of a counter-protest happening in the area, but the group arranged its route to not interact with the counter-protesters.
Allums said the group, of about 100 demonstrators, eventually approached a police barricade. The Springfield Police Department, in a news release, said the barricade was placed to “ensure the safety of the demonstrators,” blocking off a route leading toward Highway 126.
“The new route that the police were going to make us do was going to lead us back into those counter-protesters,” Allums said. He described some of the counter-protesters as being affiliated with the Proud Boys, a group that espouses parts of white supremacist ideology.
Another Black Unity organizer, Morgan Henley said many counter-organizers were carrying AR-15s and other types of assault rifles while claiming they were “patrolling the streets.”
“Effectively, both of the routes we had come up with were going to lead us into a trap,” Allums said. “One was with the police, the other was with the counter-protesters.”
Black Unity demonstrators asked the Springfield police officers why they were blocking the route, in which Allums said the officers refused to give an answer, other than they were trying to keep people safe.
“They were giving us a lot of angry looks,” Allums said. “It felt menacing. It felt intimidating.”
Springfield PD said in its news release that demonstrators were “encouraging the group to push through the barricades and defy lawful orders.”
The police department declared an unlawful assembly. Allums said demonstrators continued chanting and “making their voices be heard.”
Eventually officers began making arrests. Springfield PD said its officers were “immediately attacked by demonstrators” and that people “kicked and punched officers” and threw objects.
Allums said it felt as though Springfield police officers were targeting the organizers.
As captured on video livestreams widely shared on social media, one Black Unity organizer, Tyshawn Ford was dragged on the ground by a Springfield police officer and punched in the head while being restrained.
Footage of Tyshawn Ford being dragged and then assaulted by SPD. https://t.co/us4o0gEQGA— Elizabeth Gabriel (@_elizabethgabs) July 30, 2020
Allums said he was also hit in the side of the head by a police officer’s baton while attempting to assist someone who had fallen. He said he suffered a broken nose and a concussion.
Ford and other demonstrators were arrested for charges including disorderly conduct, interfering with police and resisting arrest. Springfield PD arrested seven people in relation to the demonstration.
Officers also arrested a counter-protester who was “involved in a verbal dispute and physical altercation” with a member of the march. A video shared on social media shows the woman, identified by police as Geena Jolee Shipman, forcefully shoving a demonstrator, causing them to hit their head on the ground.
Shipman was charged with assault in the fourth degree. The victim of the assault was transported to the hospital, Springfield PD said in its release.
Allums said as demonstrators were leaving the area they were “swarmed” by counter-protesters. He estimated that there were likely 300 or 400 counter-protesters at the end of the night in contrast to the organizers’ group of about 100 people.
Allums said Black Unity demonstrators and supporters were verbally harassed by counter-protesters and some were maced or pepper sprayed.
“The police officers that were there that were watching these interactions, watching people get beat up by these counter-protesters did nothing,” he said. “They actually turned the other cheek.”
“Knowing that this is the message that SPD wants to send and knowing that this is the system that we all live in today,” Allums said. “This is why we need to support these other movements. We need to support defunding the police, almost completely abolishing the system and creating a new system that’s better and more equitable for the community.”
Black Unity organizer Henley said it has been important for the group to put on demonstrations in the Springfield area.
“It is very, very empowering being a Black person and going into an area that you know is chock full of racism and white supremacy and oppression and being able to stand with your fist in the air and your head held high knowing that you’re standing up for what you believe in, what you know is right,” Henley said. “And letting those people know that you’re not scared, that you won’t be intimidated, and you are going to fight for what you believe in.”