The Trump administration’s attempt to destroy the Portland Black Lives Matter movement by sending in federal forces has backfired. Far from being intimidated, Portland residents were outraged when unannounced paramilitary units started grabbing protesters off the street, firing projectiles at demonstrators and inundating them with tear gas. The movement swelled and strengthened. By July 21, after 54 days of continuous protest, some 2,000 anti-racist demonstrators, including mothers in yellow t-shirts, and dads with leaf blowers, forced the federal troops to retreat inside Portland’s Federal Building, and trapped them there.
The Trump administration, however, intends to continue such provocative actions. Federal forces have been deployed to Seattle, despite the opposition of Mayor Jenny Durkam and Gov. Jay Inslee, and to Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said she agrees to the deployment which is being framed as a mission to fight violent crime. Trump said he may send federal troops New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, and other cities run by his political opponents.
Profound uprising against racism
In just two months, this unprecedented uprising against racism and police murders has reached so deep in the popular culture that the 2020 baseball season opened July 23 with all 4 teams in the sport’s two leagues taking the knee in support of Black lives.
Yet Trump has not even acknowledged the epidemic of blatant police murders of African Americans nationally, much less done anything to address overpolicing and police killings. Trump continues to fuel racism against Asian Americans by continuing blame China for COVID-19, even using a racist slur to describe the virus at his campaign rally in Tulsa.
What happened in Portland
In late June the President signed an executive order to protect federal property from destruction. Protecting Portland’s federal building became the excuse for deploying U.S. marshals, BORTAC, the Border Patrol’s tactical unit, ICE troops and the Coast Guard to Portland on July 4, against will of local officials.
The aggressive actions of these elite units have been captured on video. They have snatched protesters off the street into unmarked vehicles. They have arrested 43 people to date, according to the July 25 New York Times.
They have beaten protesters with batons including breaking the hand of a 53-year-old man after he attempted to ask them if seizing civilian protesters violated their oath to defend the Constitution. They have attacked street medics and fired projectiles at protestors and at the media. The troops are using flash bomb and pepper balls, and tear gas in such copious amounts that it has filled all of downtown Portland.
Trump praised these thugs on July 20, saying they were doing a “fantastic job” in Portland.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, in a tweet on July 17 defended what his troops were doing with, of all things, pictures of graffiti on Portland’s federal building. The excuse for these aggressive attacks on protesters was the need to defend federal property from defacement by “violent extremists,” he claimed.
Far from being “violent extremists,” the young and mostly white protesters of Portland had staged largely peaceful demonstrations in support of Black lives throughout the city. They became focused on the federal building only when Trump’s troops arrived, adding to their demand that federal troops leave Portland.
Federal deployment causes movement to grow
Anger over the federal deployment caused the protests to broaden and deepen. Among those now adding their voice for Black lives and against the fed occupation was the Wall of Moms. These women in yellow tee shirts formed a protective wall between the troops and the mostly young demonstrators who were being attacked by the feds. Pictures and videos show them linking arms in a human chain and chanting “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” captured national attention. The moms were joined by men in orange t-shirts carrying leaf blowers to use against the tear gas and calling themselves the PDX Dad Pod.
The demonstrators’s message to the feds was “go home.” In the early hours of July 21, some 2,000 people “tore open the doors of a federal courthouse and then beat back the agents inside” a journalist on the scene reported on Twitter. The next day, using umbrellas as shields from the tear gas and projectiles fired by the feds, demonstrators managed to flush the federal troops out of the building.
Police just as brutal in Democratic-run cities
Trump’s troop deployments are based on a myth his administration has created that cities run by Democratic mayors are “soft” and have let “crime” and “violent protests” get out of control. In truth, police occupation of Black communities and over policing are national phenomena. Democratic mayors are just as responsible for police murders and brutality as Republican ones.
An on-line spread sheet catalogues more than 13,000 videos posted on Twitter of police brutality against demonstrators during the uprising against racism. The cities Trump calls “soft’ have police departments with long histories of unjustified murders of Black people, and, most recently of viciously attacking Black Lives Matter protesters.
For example, Portland activists have complained that the Portland police have used the same brutal tactics on protesters as the federal troops, and have done so for some time. Mayor Tim Wheeler, who opposes the federal presence, and was actually tear gassed by them, is a case in point. The Mayor is also Portland’s Chief of Police, making him responsible for the Portland police brutality, according to residents.
Seattle, another notably liberal, Democrat-dominated city in the Pacific Northwest, has a police department that was so violent it was placed under a federal consent decree. On the first major day of protests in the national uprising, some 12,000 complaints were filed against SPD for violence. Now, just in time for the arrival of the federal troops, despite Durkan’s pearl-clutching, Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best have gotten the consent decree federal judge to put a temporary restraining order on the implementation of a City Council passed ban on tear gas, pepper balls and other so-called non-lethal weapons at protests. This came after Best essentially threatened that cops would have to use “batons and bullets” on protesters instead. (Seattle Times)
New York, another city Trump considers “soft,” has a very long history of unjustified police murders of Black people. On July 22, at 4 am, a phalanx of cop moving in lock-step behind a wall of plastic shields stormed a homeless encampment in front of City Hall. They forced homeless people out and thew everything in the encampment–water tents, personal effects– into garbage trucks and had them carted away. In 2011 NYC cops destroyed the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the same way.
Lies, lies lies
Donald Trump remains determined to reduce the mass and extremely diverse movement against racism to “dangerous criminals.” He is not letting little things like facts get in the way. On July 21 Trump’s reelection campaign released a Facebook ad with an image of a group of protesters attacking a police officer alongside the words “public safety vs chaos & violence.” But that photo was not from the U.S. It was from a rightwing protest in Kyiv, Ukraine, in 2014, and was posted on Wikimedia as such.
The photographer, Mstyslav Chernov, confirmed to Business Insider that it is his photo from six years ago. Exposed, the Trump campaign has since made the ad inactive.
Chicago activists preparing for federal troops
The rebellion against racism and for Black lives is a force in itself, and will not be quelled by repression alone. Federal troops are headed to Chicago. But what will they face? Inspired by the Wall of Moms that placed itself between the federal troops and protesters in Portland, a coalition of moms has formed in Chicago to help and defend any protest against federal intervention. More than 3,000 joined the new group in its first 36 hours.