This is not how the Portland protests have been covered in the American press. If it were happening in China, the language would be different. As a resident of Portland and witness to events, let me offer a rewrite.
[Portland, OR, July 26, 2020] For the 59th straight day, pro-democracy protesters battled government forces wielding batons and shooting tear gas and explosive munitions into the crowd. The largely peaceful protests were sparked by government killing of an unarmed, shackled Black man, George Floyd, the latest in a series of outrages against a minority it once enslaved. For weeks, protesters have gathered to demand equal justice under the rallying cry that these persecuted Black lives matter.
The controversial claim has aggrieved the unpopular leader of the regime, Donald J. Trump, who publicly backs the majority white population. In response to the protests, the longest-running in the country, Mr. Trump secretly sent in camouflaged troops to abduct dissidents in Portland. When the scheme came to light, the protests gained new vigor. Now thousands gather each night in a small area of downtown in front of a federal courthouse to express their pro-democracy views. Despite assaults that have left some protesters seriously wounded, the demonstrations have only gained strength.
Mr. Trump’s effort to repress citizens with these violent tactics — “quell” in his words — only seem to have encouraged them. On Saturday night, a reported 5,000 materialized, some pouring in as a part of protests in other parts of the city. “I love that so may people are here,” Jakob Perez said. “This is our city.” Following a week in which Portland’s demonstrations grew from a few hundred to a few thousand, protesters in other cities gathered last night in shows of support, as well. Leaders in Austin, Seattle, and Louisville all reported similar pro-democracy gatherings.
The support for Black lives is broad here. The governor, city officials, and most members of the state’s congressional delegation supports the protesters and have called on federal troops to withdraw. Mayor Ted Wheeler, unpopular among protesters because of his police’s own heavy-handed tactics, nevertheless joined the protest this week only to be tear gassed by federal troops. Last night, city council member Jo Ann Hardesty, a Black Oregonian, was on-site to rally the protesters, leading a chant of “We will not fail!”
Much of the protesters’ resolve comes from violence directed against them. Each night, videos of the troops assaulting protesters flood social media. The force, cobbled together from a hodgepodge of government agencies, has not been trained in crowd control. The combination of inadequate training and dangerous weaponry inevitably results in unnecessary injury.
Protesters describe a sense that the Trump regime intended to make an example of Portland in an effort to delegitimize their complaints. “Black lives are so important,” Kara Martin said. “And it is important to have the right to protest. To see that wasn’t happening was disconcerting.”
In response to government violence, disparate groups have begun assembling to form human walls to protect crowds. It started with a group of mothers and has since spread to include fathers, veterans, doctors, and others. Although local media routinely describe the protests as violent, the main incidents involve property damage. Very few incidents of protester-caused violence have been reported.
It is unclear when the protests will end. The United States, once a leader in democratic institutions, has seen them weaken. The current leader was elected with fewer votes than his rival (owing to arcane, 18th-century rules) in 2016 and the opposition party attempted to remove him earlier in the year on corruption charges. Sending troops into Portland was a way of signaling strength and shoring up his base. Recent polls have shown the effort to be ineffective, but Trump is unlikely to back down now for fear of looking weak.
Yet the protesters seem unlikely to retreat, either. “Every single person should be scared of what’s happening here,” said resident Katrina Kerley. “We can’t stand for this.”
Of course, some reports are doing a better job than others, and this can’t capture all the nuance in a situation in which thousands are playing a role. But for those who don’t live in Portland, a few very important facts are routinely left out of the reporting. What’s happening here is an assault on peaceful protests by a federal regime.
- Most of the protest activity is focused on a two-block area of downtown.
- Violence committed by federal troops is widespread and well-documented in real time by reporters like Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos on Twitter) and Alex Zielinski (@Alex_zee). They do this to prevent property damage. That is their explicit function.
- When the press report on the “violent” protesters, they actually mean property crimes — graffiti and smashed windows. Actual cases of protester-caused violence are extremely rare.
- In fact, the protests are joyful affairs with singing and dancing (this is also well-documented).
Protesters do try to provoke the feds by attacking the fencing they put up every night, but that’s because they are attempting to make a very serious point. My intention in writing this was to illustrate that in other countries when the public engages in pro-democracy demonstrations, we assume they will commit similar provocations. Fighting injustice is chaotic. And it’s critical to remember that the point of the demonstrations in Portland is entirely devoted to fighting injustice.
*Actual quotes from different, linked reports.