Feeding a movement: Riot Ribs volunteers discuss food, arrests and police violence

By Tess Novotny (OPB) and Geoff Norcross (OPB)
July 23, 2020 7:30 p.m.
Riot Ribs distributes free food to protesters and passers by from tables set up in Lownsdale Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on July 20, 2020.

Riot Ribs distributes free food to protesters and passers by from tables set up in Lownsdale Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on July 20, 2020.

Courtney Sherwood / OPB


Riot Ribs has been grilling free food for Black Lives Matter protesters and people experiencing homelessness in downtown Portland since July 4. Police have arrested Riot Ribs volunteers, shot at them with less-lethal weapons and seized their cooking gear twice. But the members of the group, primarily of people who are experiencing homelessness, say they have no plans to stop.

OPB "Morning Edition" Host Geoff Norcross spoke recently with Beans, a Riot Ribs volunteer, and Rico, a Riot Ribs cook, about the protests and their purpose in cooking for demonstrators. They asked OPB not to use their full names because they fear for their safety.

To listen to the conversation, use the audio player at the top of this story.

Geoff Norcross: Beans, let's start with you. How did Riot Ribs get started?

Beans: Riot Ribs got started the night of Fourth of July. Lorenzo, who is an original Black Panther, decided to take out his grill and take it to the sidewalk. And that night, Fourth of July, he just got tear-gassed multiple times. His resilience kind of is what started Riot Ribs, and the idea that we could be out here serving and cooking for the people 24/7 no matter what.

Norcross: How has it grown from there?

Beans: From there, it just kind of took off. We had some people realize what Lorenzo was doing and dropped off some donations. We had some cooks that were traveling from Minnesota. After those protests, they came here, and they saw what Lorenzo was doing, and they decided to cook as well. And just slowly over time, we set up a Cash App and a Venmo, and we accepted donations with money, and we accept food donations as well, and it really just took off from there.

Norcross: There have been some hiccups, though. Rico, I know the police have seized your gear a couple of times now at least. Did they give any reasons for doing that?

Rico: Actually, not at all. None whatsoever.


Norcross: And how did you bounce back after that?

Rico: The community actually came together within hours, within seconds of them knowing we got arrested, the community pitched in double of what they pitched in that day alone.

Norcross: I also understand you were shot by a non-lethal weapon. Can you talk to me about that? What happened?

Rico: Yes. It was about 7 p.m. and they were cooking, nobody was out here protesting, a [Portland Police Bureau] vehicle actually does patrols here with the riot gear during the day for intimidation tactics, and he was cruising by, came up, we had a couple words, a little chat. He was leaving, according to him, and the back passenger driver shot me point blank right on my heart, through my jacket and shirt. And now I have a big ol' burn, I have two broken ribs and a bruised lung, and I'm still out here working 24/7.

Norcross: Obviously, this is dangerous work. Why are you doing it?

Rico: Somebody has to do it. We have been stripped out of everything. If nobody comes down here and gets the communities together, then we're out here [like] chickens with their heads cut off. We have to get back. Somebody has to get back until the next person does it.

Norcross: How are you paying for it?

Rico: The community has donated everything — 100% of everything that’s here has been pure donations.

Norcross: Beans, what has that meant for you? What has it meant for you to have that kind of community support for Riot Ribs?

Beans: I think it's really amazing. It's really amazing what the community can do and it just goes to show how much food is not being distributed, and how much food is out there. The community can come together, find it, and we're getting it to the most vulnerable populations, which is just amazing.

Norcross: I don't know how long these protests are going to go on, but at some point, they're probably going to end. But the houselessness in downtown Portland is not. Do you have any plans to stay and continue to feed the houseless after the protests are over?

Rico: Oh yeah, this movement is not stopping at all. We plan on having a community-based Riot Ribs kind of thing everywhere, all around the U.S. It’s what we’re trying, that’s the goal — be self-sustainable, and something that comes from the earth.

Norcross: Beans, I guess the last word is for you. Can you talk to me a little bit more about why you're doing this?

Beans: Yeah, I think we're doing this for the community. We're doing this for the people. We’re doing this for the fact that the state keeps inflicting violence on us constantly, and we just want to show that we can persevere no matter what.