Why are federal agents kidnapping Portland protesters?

Cover image: BORTAC and other federal agents are terrorizing people in Portland. Image source: CBP

For more than 50 days, as part of the national uprising against racism, people have been gathering across Portland to protest police violence. At the beginning of July, Trump and the Department of Homeland Security sent in the Border Patrol Tactical Unit and a U.S. Marshals Special Operations unit to Portland to quell the nightly protests. The DHS established BORTAC after 9/11 to fight terrorism; it typically deals with drug smuggling at the U.S.-Mexico border. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf came into town on July 16, calling for a more aggressive response.

National outrage was sparked this week because of video footage showing militarized federal agents, with no identifiable badges, in camouflage grabbing protesters off the street in the middle of the night and taking the protesters into unmarked rental cars.

Unidentified federal agents in camouflage arrest a protester in Portland. Liberation News screenshot via Twitter/@matcha_chai

Several protesters shared the experience of being kidnapped by unidentified officers, blindfolded, and driven around the city just to unknowingly end up inside the courthouse within a few hours. It was not until then that their Miranda rights were finally read to them. They were terrorized into waiving their rights and released without any citations or documentation of the event.

With numerous groups gathering in a variety of locations, police have primarily focused on the nightly demonstrations in the three park blocks across the street from the Justice Center and the Federal courthouse. The Justice Center serves as the Multnomah County’s Sheriff’s office and the Multnomah County Detention Center.

The center also has four courtrooms, and on the backside of the building is the central precinct for the Portland Police Bureau. Here, police have declared riots at largely peaceful protests and indiscriminately deployed tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets into crowds of hundreds of protesters.

Portland police are brutalizing people

On July 11, these federal officers set up right outside the courthouse doors and shot tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters. Donavan Labella, a 26-year-old protester, was standing across the street holding a speaker over his head with both hands when the officers threw a tear gas canister at him. Labella lightly tossed the gas canister into the empty street between him and the officers. As he continued holding the speaker above his head,  the police shot him in the face. Other protesters immediately came to Labella’s aid and got him away from the scene. As of July 16, he has had to have facial reconstruction surgery and his GoFundMe said he was recovering from brain damage and loss of vision. The long-term damage was still unclear. 

The same night a person was having a seizure on the sidewalk when the feds pinned him down and detained him while other officers kept protesters and street medics away before deploying tear gas.

Local officials have publicly condemned the grotesque brutality from federal officers despite the fact that the mayor, with the support of the local officials, had ordered the Portland Police to carry out shocking violence against peaceful protesters as well. 

Even mutual aid groups have come under attack by the police. A group of protesters called Riot Ribs set up a tent and a grill at one of the park blocks and were cooking free food for anyone in the area. With many of the volunteers being houseless themselves, this mutual aid group was making thousands of dollars in donations nightly and serving mainly protesters and houseless people. On the morning of July 16, the Portland Police raided the park and cleared the area of protesters and people who were camping there. Most if not all were sleeping when the police gave everyone less than ten minutes to leave. They stole all of Riot Ribs’ supplies and cash donations and arrested three of the volunteers. All three were released later that day and with quick donations they were able to set up again across the street from the park. 

That same morning, a protester was following police orders to leave the area and was biking away when police knocked him off his bike and arrested him.

While a rhetorical feud ensues between local and federal politicians for “control,” at night both local and federal officers commit indiscriminate violence against hundreds of protesters. 

Yet Portlanders continue to take to the streets. No justice, no peace!

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