Timur Ender lives with his wife, Althea, and two young children in East Portland, not far Ventura Park and the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct. He cares deeply about justice and equality in Portland — he works on transportation projects to address disparities in park access, traffic crashes and sidewalk access on the city’s east side — but has only marginally been involved with the city’s mass protests against racial injustice and police violence. Ender says he attended a few demonstrations earlier in the summer, mostly as a curious neighbor, and left long before they became confrontational.
So when demonstrators marked their 100th day of mass protests at Ventura Park with a plan to march to the nearby precinct, Ender and his wife walked the few blocks to see the speeches.
He didn’t expect to spend the evening walking through clouds of CS gas, commonly known as tear gas — at times, literally outside his front door.
“I didn’t really expect much,” Ender said, “because people were in the park and gathering in the streets; it was like, extremely early in the protests.”
But police reported having fire bombs, mortars and rocks hurled at them. They responded with force: declaring the gathering a riot and using impact weapons, bull rushes and clouds of tear gas to control and disperse the crowd.
“Next thing you know, tear gas is being lobbed and there’s just nowhere to go; there’s not that many side streets in East Portland,” Ender says.
The couple had no intention of engaging with the police, so they didn’t bring any gear to protect against the gas, but he realized the only way to escape was to walk east — directly into the growing clouds of gas.
Ender says he immediately felt the gas stinging his eyes and clenching his throat. He couldn’t see.
“It was really scary,” Ender said. “I grabbed someone’s shoulder and I was holding my wife by her hand... we were just trying to get out of there as quickly as possible.”
They retreated to a safe distance and continued watching as the police continued launching gas and forcing protesters onto the streets of Ender’s neighborhood.
‘They don’t make a gas mask for a 2-month-old baby’
Eventually the confrontations moved to their block, then directly in front of their house. As the clouds of gas grew, Ender and his wife realized he desperately needed to get home and protect his children.
Once again, the only way out was through the clouds of gas.
“I was like ‘Allie, let’s get out of here,’” Ender said. “She was, like, ‘No, we need to get home and get to the kiddos.’ She, in her bravery, led me directly through the tear gas to get home.”
Back home, they frantically texted with friends to figure out how to protect their children from the gas. Someone suggested putting wet towels under the kids’ doors. Still, they felt powerless.
“It was a really frightening situation because you don’t really have anywhere you can go,” Ender said. “The police are outside your home on all sides. If the tear gas gets in your house, there’s no escape. I mean, they don’t make a gas mask for a 2-month-old baby.”
Eventually they did the only thing they could think of: They opened their window and pleaded with the police to stop gassing their neighborhood.
Someone is calling out “our babies sleep here, they don’t have masks” from a Portland home as police make arrests. pic.twitter.com/D4wOJQ8A1d— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) September 6, 2020
The day after the gassing, Timur Ender says his family has been mentally traumatized and they’re researching how the exposure to the gas will affect their bodies. The long-term effects of exposure to tear gas are still unknown, but OPB has documented significant side-effects the gas has already caused on protesters’ bodies. Ender says his wife is unclear whether she should continue breast-feeding their baby. He also worries about his community: His next-door neighbor is pregnant, another has asthma. Many houses nearby have young children.
‘The protesters did not gas my house. The police did.’
Mayor Wheeler’s office released a statement to OPB Sunday evening, acknowledging the use of tear gas and the unsafe conditions in East Portland Saturday night:
“Nights like last night aren’t safe for anyone involved, and don’t move reform forward. I restricted the use of CS to life safety situations, and the Incident Commander determined that its use was necessary last night at least in part because of the fires being set in the neighborhood. I welcome an open and frank discussion about what tools officers should use, which they should not, and where to draw the lines.”
But Ender was very clear about who he blames for his family’s ordeal.
“I blame Ted Wheeler for the tear gas,” Ender said. “The protesters did not gas my house. The police did.”
Ender says he signed up to be in city government to make a difference in people’s lives; to address disparities in funding and power. Now he’s calling on the city to reconsider the procurement process that allowed the PPB to purchase CS gas in the first place.
“The city of Portland has a socially responsible investment policy for investment decisions and balancing big portfolios,” he said. “We should have a socially responsible procurement policy; that we shouldn’t be procuring chemical weapons when we know they’re going to be unleashed on city streets.”
He says he views the city’s ability to buy CS gas for use on its own citizens as a misuse of city funds, and drives a wedge between the police and the community.
“We’re not going to forget we ate tear gas right outside our home,” he says, “and had to make our way past tear gas to get to our kids when we were just trying to observe from the outside what was going on.”
Timur Ender’s family is still recovering from the trauma of what happened in their neighborhood on Saturday night. But he’s also insistent that, at the end of the day, this isn’t about him and his family.
“This is about justice for Black and brown people, and those who have been oppressed and marginalized,” he says.
“For us to inhale CS gas or have property damage or have health effects that we may not know about for years to come, that’s nothing for what the larger goal is here.”