This summer, police violence against people of color reignited protests surrounding police reform and the Black Lives Matter movement.
This included several large marches in Portland, where the activists of Don’t Shoot PDX led several large rallies, including a march through downtown Portland on the same night that five police officers were killed after a similar Black Lives Matter event in Dallas.
Don’t Shoot organizer Teressa Raiford said the news of the Dallas shooting added an element of fear to people on both sides of the Portland demonstration – protesters and police.
“Just imagine, that day, hearing about officers in Dallas being shot at a protest just like ours and those officers’ comrades standing in front of protesters,” she said.
The police officers at that July protest were a part of Portland’s Rapid Response Team. They primarily handle crowd control and traffic for large events.
The team is led by Capt. Vince Elmore, who has been with the Portland Police Bureau for 26 years.
Elmore is an African-American man who grew up in the South during the Civil Rights era. He says he gets where groups such as Black Lives Matter and Don’t Shoot are coming from.
“For me, an African-American male working in law enforcement, I do understand that these environments have started a conversation — and it’s a conversation that needed to be started. So, I believe in that,” Elmore said.
Lt. Ryan Lee is also a part of Portland’s Rapid Response Team and was at the Portland protest when news broke about the shooting in Dallas.
“There’s a mixed emotion feeling that you have out there,” he said. “You’re there to ensure that those who want to lawfully exercise their First Amendment rights have the opportunity to do it in a safe manner.
“But, there is that sympathetic concern, that notion, a similar event occurred where somebody tragically took the lives of these officers who were trying to do the same type of work we’re doing.”
Some of Elmore’s team worked at the demonstration in full protective gear or what’s commonly referred to as riot gear.
Don’t Shoot member Lamarra Haynes was also at the Portland protest and worries that the use of police riot gear can lead to violent escalations.
“You have people who are standing in front of you in all this gear that incites fear, and when people are scared, they act in ways that they normally wouldn’t,” she said. “I think by wearing all that gear, they are — the police officers and the police force — inciting violence because people feel scared, and they don’t know what to do.”
For Elmore, the gear comes with the job.
“Just like the fireman, the mailman — everyone wears a uniform per their procedure. This is what I’m told to wear,” he said.
Elmore said he understands the preconceived notions some people have about police officers, especially with the current national debate over police accountability, but he also wants to remind people that he is an individual outside of the uniform.
“Fear of mindset of the police, that might be something. I understand that piece,” Elmore said. “But you might want to get to know me and who’s under the uniform before you say you’re in fear of me.”
The July protest ended with protesters and fully geared police coming face to face on the Morrison Bridge. Elmore’s team formed a human barricade to block the entrance ramp.
Elmore said that it is especially important to deter protesters from moving to bridges or freeways, not only to keep traffic moving, but also to keep protesters from getting injured.
The confrontation ended peacefully: the only arrest made was a counter-protester who brandished a gun at ralliers.
Haynes, with Don’t Shoot PDX, wishes police, whether in riot gear or not, wouldn’t interfere with protests at all as the commotion they cause is a necessary catalyst for change.
“Protesting is essential, basically, and it disrupts things, right?” she said. “I think sometimes we need disruption in our daily lives for us to realize, ‘Oh, there’s actually a problem here.’”