Saturday, April 9, 2011

On a Night Like This

[I forgot to post this yesterday.]

As I was riding my bike home from Portland State University last night, I came upon a huge police presence just south of Burnside around 10th ave, near O'Bryant Park. There were a large amount of bike cops, a few police vans, and countless police cars. Also in the mix was a news-cameraman, noticeably in the police area. Basically, it looked like a size-able portion of the Portland Police task force were present. It became clear that there was a protest that took place, but it was scattered, at this point, with only relatively few people left. As I was briefly watching from the sidelines, a couple of people came up to me and gave me some small fliers, which immediately identified them as anarchist. They seemed to be handing out fliers around the periphery of the scene. From what I gathered, it was a protest about corrupt Portland police officers: my fliers included small exposes on Portland Police Sgt. Charles Brown and Portland Police Captain Mark Kruger. As they handed me the fliers, they noticed a news-camera possibly approaching them, so they kind of vanished quickly. I also had a bad feeling about this, so I stuffed the fliers in my pocket and rode on home.

From the small amount I observed, it did seem like an overwhelming majority of police officers ganging up on what looked like a pretty small amount of people. There were a few protesters pressed down on the ground, surrounded by cops. About four or five cops were restraining a man who kept yelling out "I didn't fucking do anything!" Maybe using a "cuss-word" like fuck is reason enough to treat someone as hostile, I don't know. I didn't see what this man did to merit this kind of action. What I did see, though, was that these police officers took this man around the corner of the parking lot, away from where most of this action was taking place, and pressed him up against the door of a business. It was under an eve of the building, and kind of set back a bit in a crevasse, tucked away without any light. They seemed to just be holding him there. I do not know what further was done to this man because I left while he was in the same position, but it sure seemed like a maneuver to get him outside of the camera's view, or from out of microphone range. The camerman could've investigated this by just going around the corner. No matter though, because the subsequent news reports didn't really show much of the protesters...

When I got home, I looked at what was reported at that point. It was largely what I expected: reports that identified the protesters as anarchists, first and foremost, mentioning their 'dressing in black' and noting, with some relief, that at least property wasn't damaged and cops were not injured. Today, there were a few more small stories about the protest, and as usual heavily borrowing from the other. Essentially, this tag-line accompanies each story: "There were no reports of injuries or property damage." In The Columbian, the story hilariously mentions that a "protest march against police brutality ended with nearly a dozen arrests Thursday evening." Same with OregonLive: "nearly a dozen...". So,...eleven people, right?

So what set off this police action? Here's a shared blurb from The Columbian: "The Oregonian says officers moved in to arrest a young woman who joined the protest at the courthouse square. As one officer tried to arrest her, a protester kicked the back tire of his bicycle, leading to a scuffle.
About 20 officers dropped their bicycles and moved in to tackle a handful of protesters. Police cars swarmed the area with sirens blaring." However, as of today, the newest report I've looked at, from this site: , says that protesters were shooting fireworks at police officers, which then led to police action.

The local news stories really only hint at what the objective of the protest was about. They were "anti-police brutality" protests, simply enough. In KGW's report, it was phrased that the protesters "...marched against what they called 'police brutality.'" This may have just been a simple reading of the story, or it could've been something subtle: as if the subject of police brutality was a debatable point depending on the source. These news stories had a way of both trivializing the protesters while making them appear threatening. This is nothing new, and as I mentioned I was not surprised at how the story was being reported. It's just funny what words and phrases are included in a small news story. It's also important to note exactly what is included and what is omitted and why.

Well, from reading these news stories I would only have a vague idea about what or who these people were protesting. Fortunately, I was able to receive two fliers with pertinent information. The one about Portland Police Sgt. Charlie Brown explains that this officer was "...recently questioned in relation to a federal inquiry concerning the use of steroids and human growth hormone by a Canby cop, Jason Deason..." The flier then goes on to site a series of Oregonian articles about this officer and his covering-up of then-fellow officer Michael Pimentel's domestic abuse against his girlfriend by reporting the assault as a "noise disturbance." The Oregonian article:

The other article, "Cops Draw a Crooked Line to Protect Their Own," seems to be unavailable on the Oregonian site, strangely. However, here is a blog that comments on the story:

The other flier is about Portland Police Captain Mark Kruger. The Willamette Week ran a story on the police captain entitled "The Cop Who Liked Nazis,"

in which they discuss Kruger's overt Nazi sympathies. There are two other Oregonian articles relating to the bizarre case where Kruger erected a memorial to five Nazi soldiers up on Rocky Butte:

It is also noted how this police captain is a notorious and violent presence at anti-war demonstrations. Presumably, these are only a few of the examples that the protesters were trying to draw attention to. Legitimate gripes about police corruption, I would say. If these items were included in local coverage of the event, I dare say that it might appear that the Portland police force were a bit eager to start slamming protesters who were discrediting their fellow officers. Especially if they were hinting at their neo-Nazi tendencies or their meth-and-steroid fueled violent outbursts.

And yet, when you begin to read the comments section of the news stories relating to this protest last night, you find the same themes. Mostly, it is people encouraging the police to use violence against protesters-- because said commenter is just so sick of hearing about protesters. Or, they draw attention to the group's political beliefs in order to invalidate them as a whole. Or, strangely enough, they criticize these anarchists for disguising themselves with black masks or bandannas, insinuating that they are not brave enough to stand up for their convictions. This is kind of funny since they are actually out demonstrating, probably knowing full well that stand a good chance of being arrested for even the thinnest, slightest thing that could be taken for provocation. Their chances of being arrested are probably far higher than any other group of demonstrators.

Have they invited some of this scrutiny? Sure, in lots of ways: vandalism, destruction of property, simplistic sloganeering promoting vague and idealistic concepts of self-government. But anarchism wasn't the focus of the protest last night, from what I gathered, and the overwhelming reaction by the police were set-off by quite a hair-trigger.  Sure, one of my fliers had the anarchy A on the back with this message: "One definition of ANARCHISM: The abolition of all government; the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force or compulsion." The other had a print of an American flag with the inscription, "They Say Jump You Say How High." Not exactly impressive considering that I've had countless fliers handed to me throughout the last decade in Portland, so many of which have had this condescending tone in its message. The content of the protest, however, was specifically about drawing attention to corrupt police officials. To draw attention specifically to some vague anarchist=terrorist notion is to sort of blur the important distinction here.

Since I was not present during the protest and mostly saw the aftermath, I do not have any proof of whether a protester shot fireworks at cops, or if someone kicked the back tire of a cop's bike. But still, the burden of explaining one's actions does fall heavier on the police officers who wield considerable power over citizens. They need to be able to rationally explain their actions and the degree of their actions. And yet, by reading these comments, one can see that so many people subscribe to this theory that 'if you do no wrong, nothing bad will happen to you.' Pepper-sprays and tazers are only used on those who deserve it. Essentially, there is no such thing as unlawful arrest or unprovoked police brutality: those who receive it do so due to their own fault. Anytime this kind of thing comes up, there is always someone there to defend it: "They have stressful jobs; how would you act if you were in their shoes; it was actually the person who got the shit-beaten-out-of-them's fault for provoking these high-strung public officials, etc..." Well, I suppose that works...unless you happened to be a target. Better hope that never happens.

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