As Some Black Community Leaders Decry Protest, Dueling Tales Of Conflict With Police

By Jonathan Levinson (OPB)
June 27, 2020 4:45 p.m.

Community members, largely from organizations in North Portland who work closely with the police, joined the city's mayor and police chief at a press conference on Friday near the police bureau’s north precinct to decry demonstrations that took place there the night before.

“That's a terrorist activity,” said Rev. Steven Holt, lead pastor at the Kingdom Nation Church, in response to allegations that protesters nailed precinct doors closed while other protesters tried to set the building on fire.

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Mayor Ted Wheeler characterized the north precinct protests as directionless violence.

“Last night was plainly and simply about arson,” Wheeler said. “It was about destruction. It was about endangering lives. It's blatant criminal violence.”

The Portland Police Bureau accused protesters of attempting to set the bureau's north precinct building on fire. Multiple online accounts of the evening tell a different version of events overnight from Thursday into pre-dawn Friday morning.

The Portland Police Bureau accused protesters of attempting to set the bureau's north precinct building on fire. Multiple online accounts of the evening tell a different version of events overnight from Thursday into pre-dawn Friday morning.

Provided by Portland Police Bureau.

According to multiple online accounts of the evening, that isn’t what happened. Those accounts say some protesters started a fire outside a beauty supply store located in the same building as north precinct, but protesters immediately put that fire out and admonished the people who started it.

At the time the fire was set, police officers were already exiting the building to disperse protesters using tear gas and so-called "less lethal" impact munitions. A Portland Police Bureau representative told Willamette Week that they never deemed the fire a significant enough threat to evacuate the building.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell called the act “evil.”

“There are people inside these buildings that we're trying to protect,” Lovell said. “And acts that have been going on throughout this city while regular Portlanders are asleep is reprehensible. And it needs to stop and stop today.”

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After a month of police resorting to violence on a near nightly basis in order to disperse protesters, Lovell motioned to the people around him and said community mobilization is going to be important in ending the standoff.

Video from the Thursday night protests shows police firing impact munitions into the crowd from the precinct rooftop and later pulling a driver out of a vehicle into a cloud of tear gas in the street.

After the police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, witnesses said they saw an officer on the precinct roof shooting at protesters running away. One neighbor offered to help struggling protesters as they passed by.

Police have used impact munitions across the country over the past month, causing injuries such as lost eyes, head injuries, and severe lacerations. A judge in Oregon recently issued a restraining order against the use of tear gas except in situations “in which the lives or safety of the public or the police are at risk.”

The speakers at Friday’s event all roundly rejected the protesters’ actions the night before, but some did so with more nuance than others.

Related: Lionel Irving Wants To End The Cycle Of Violence That Claimed His Childhood

Lionel Irving is a community activist who does youth outreach and has also been attending the protests over the past month. Speaking to the crowd on Friday, he said that you have to approach the fight against systemic racism with love. He challenged other Black people in the community to come out and speak to the protesters.

Irving said out of the 300 people he saw at North Precinct the night before, only about 30 or 40 were causing problems. The other 260 all wanted to know how they could help.

“So I've challenged the brothers in this community to come out to these protests,” Irving said. “They can't give you a microphone fast enough, because they want to hear what you got to say, but you got to come up here and be on the front line.”

After the speakers dispersed, Irving acknowledged that non-peaceful protest has played a crucial role in him even having a platform that day.

“The violent protesters and the antagonizers create platforms for people like me to get up and speak,” Irving said. “If they didn’t do that last night, then I wouldn’t have been able to get up and call my brothers and sisters to action.”

While you need social disruption, he said, it’s possible to go too far and lose support.

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