Portland-On the Ground

When Attorney General William Barr testified before Congress last Wednesday, July 28, he characterized the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon, as violent riots. Jim Jordan, U.S. Rep from Ohio, one of the committee mermbers showed edited video depicting incidents to show the protests as riots consuming the city. In the wake of the testimony, The Oregonian and most of mainstream media pushed back at Barr’s statements while the right wing media echoed Barr’s (and Trump’s) “law and order” message. 

Late the same day the Trump administration blinked in the standoff with the Mayor of Portland and the Governor of Oregon, both of whom have been loudly pushing for the feds to leave on grounds that their presence was inciting the unrest. The federal administration announced a carefully worded “phased withdrawal” of Customs and Border Protection and ICE agents, an announcement that sounded to me like an attempt to save face while getting out of a situation that looked bad for them.

So whose characterization of the protests in Portland is the truth, the Trump media or what we used to call the “mainstream” media? Is this a case of blind people examining an elephant, where each gets to feel just one appendage? 

For my part, I found this youtube video informative as an illustration of who was playing the aggressor: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HQ_moOtDqvk  [The incident that made this gentle giant famous as a non-violent protester is seen around 3:15 in the video if you don’t have the time or patience to watch the whole thing.] As a physician, I was particularly touched by the description of the volunteer medics treating the injured. 

I value eyewitness accounts by respected people. Dr. Alden Roberts is surgeon and retired former Chief Medical Officer of a hospital in Vancouver, Washington, who recently finished his term as the Chairman of the Washington Medical Commission. He went went to Portland to see for himself. I was able to contact Dr. Roberts via LinkedIn and confirm his authorship and willingness to share. This is what he wrote back: “Yes, that was an e-mail I sent to my kids. I’ve now been to four protests, once with other physicians and once with my older brother. Our observations are what I described to my kids.”

“1. The protests are confined to a 2 block radius around the courthouse, and if you’re 4 blocks away, you can’t tell anything has been happening. There is nothing going on outside of that region, and Portland is functioning as normally as the Pandemic will allow. It is not burning, nor is it out of control.

2. The protesters are absolutely peaceful at the Protests that I have been part of, and with the exception of graffiti, are completely within their constitutional rights to protest. The protests involve singing, chanting, and have used “white walls” to block whites who are trying to disrupt or corrupt the protests. Yes, cursing is rather commonplace. More than ½ of the protesters are white. All are protesting for Black Lives Matter, although the entrance of the federal paramilitary force has brought out a lot of people, including myself, who are incensed at the use of unregulated federal force against law abiding citizen and against the will of the state and local governments.

3. ALL of the protesters are wearing masks to minimize transmission of CoV-2. However, as at times there are 1000 or more of us, it is hard (though not impossible) to maintain social distancing. When the federal paramilitary force is deployed, it becomes impossible.

4. The Police responded unprovoked and were brutal, but nothing like the paramilitary force. There is a court order that forbids the police to use teargas. I was not there when it was just the police.

5. At the protests I have attended, I did not witness any unlawfulness on the part of the protesters. Each time, the federal paramilitary personnel launched an apparently unprovoked attack. There have been no “riots.” The federal paramilitary force has had no training in crowd control, has no oversight, was not invited to Portland by local leadership, does not have any form of identification do not wear name badges, and wears military camo. They are heavily armed with flash-bang grenades, less-lethal bullets, pepper bullets, pepper spray and tear gas. They will pull goggles off of protesters and spray pepper spray into their eyes. They used a baton to beat a US Navy vet, broke his hand and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes because he asked why they weren’t honoring their vow to protect the constitution. During the assault, he stood still and did not resist until blinded by the pepper spray, he turned around and walked away. The “line of mothers” on Sunday was gassed and shot with less-lethal bullets for chanting Black Lives Matter. At least one was pregnant. A protester holding a sign up with both hands was shot in the head with a “non-lethal” bullet and will likely have permanent brain damage. While I have not personally seen this, there are videos of people being kidnapped into unmarked vans by the federal paramilitaries as they left the protests, held for a couple of days, interrogated, then released without charges or explanation. At this time, re-read my first two points. The protests are no threat to Portland and only encompass a 2 block area. They have been peaceful, with graffiti as the only illegal activity. They are well controlled and supported by a cross section of Portlanders. There is no reason for the federal government to be involved, and the excessive force being used appears to be nothing more than a political show of force against US Citizens by the Trump administration.

6. About 3000 protesters showed up last night (July 21); all with masks, very well behaved. Certainly no chaos, no violence on the part of the protesters. I left at 10:30, the paramilitary attacked at 12:30. I spent an hour talking to the medics. They say they are being targeted by the paramilitary personnel. They are often the first to be shot at and tear gassed. When they try to help an injured protester, the paramilitary personnel throw flash-bangs and tear gas at them (they carry gas masks). One of them was beaten, dragged away from the injured person they were treating and arrested. They are from OHSU as well as Portland Fire.

7. The Elk statue was taken down by the Police to “protect” it, but the Elk statue was a favorite of the protesters because it was uncontroversial; so they got a blow-up elk and put it where the real statue used to stand. It’s sort of a rallying point.”

This should concern, if not terrify, all of us. This is an unidentified and unaccountable federal police presence attacking American citizens who are not violating any federal laws. This is literally how the “secret police” in other authoritarian regimes began. The comparison to the early stages of Nazi Germany is NOT AN EXAGGERATION anymore.

Silence is complacency. Please share this post. Please spread this information. Please get involved. Do not allow or condone this conduct by our federal government. I don’t care which political party you support, this is an affront to the U.S. Constitution and the founding principals of our nation”.

Sent from my iPhone

For my part I am left with no doubt as to what has been going on in Portland between Dr. Roberts’ email and the youtube interview with the gentle giant veteran referenced above. Keep this incident in mind as you vote in the Primary (next Tuesday is the deadline for the Washington primary election ballot turn-in) and in November. No one who has supported Trump and what has been doing for the last three and a half years is going to get a vote from me. 

Keep to the high ground,

P.S. I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Deborah Greene in recommending I try to contact Dr. Roberts via LinkedIn. Even as a retired physician myself and with all the electronic connections I available to me I found it surprisingly difficult to contact him. Lesson learned.

P.P.S. I took the trouble to confirm to authorship both because it is the right thing to do, but also because I recognize a genre of widely circulated emails among (mostly older) friends, They are emails with a subtle or subliminal political message, a message often tacked on to an engaging story. They circulate without attribution or with questionable attribution. They are constructed by some political operative intending to mold the minds of their readers while never to having to answer for the veracity of the claim or the source of their funding.