Scenes from a Portland Protest: 'I'm Not Here for Fucking Clapping.' - Rolling Stone
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‘I’m Not Here for Fucking Clapping.’ Scenes from a Portland Protest

In Portland, another progressive city with famously racist cops, George Floyd’s murder strikes a nerve

Marchers lay down on the Burnside Bridge for nine minutes on Tuesday evening, June 2, 2020, symbolizing the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP)

Marchers lay down on the Burnside Bridge for nine minutes on Tuesday evening, June 2, 2020, symbolizing the amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd's neck. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25.

Sean Meagher/The Oregonian/AP

In downtown Portland, the graffiti splattered on the stone walls and plate glass of the federal courthouse lays bare the pain of a city not unlike Minneapolis: predominately white and liberal, yet policed by a force that is notoriously racist, and, in Portland’s case, under federal supervision for excessive use of force. 

The spray paint is a rainbow of blacks and blues and pinks and purples: “ABOLISH COPS,” it says. “FUCK 12”; “COPS ARE TERRORISTS”; “ACAB”; “STOP KILLING BLACK MEN”.

One tag, in red paint, reads, “REST IN POWER BIG FLOYD,” honoring the 46-year-old Minneapolis father George Floyd, whose video-taped killing, by police who kneeled on his body and neck until the breath left his body, lit the fuse on a nationwide uprising. 

The explosion here included the smashing of windows and lighting of small fires at the neighboring Multnomah County Justice Center, a law enforcement complex that houses the sheriff’s office, courtrooms and a jail. The facility is now cordoned behind chain link fence and guarded by white officers in tactical vests. In this dystopian moment, the words of the slave owner George Washington, engraved in stone above the street, take on Orwellian dissonance: “The due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

Like any big city in America, Portland has its own list of George Floyds. Activists here still ache for Quanice Hayes, an unarmed, black 17-year-old who was shot and killed while on his knees by a white officer with an AR-15 in 2017. Portland cops do not wear body cameras, so the story of Hayes’ killing has been controlled by the police force that ended his life. A grand jury declined to indict the shooter, who said he feared Hayes, a robbery suspect, was reaching for a weapon. The Hayes family has filed a wrongful death claim against the city, alleging the teenager could have been apprehended peacefully, but was killed for attempting to obey contradictory police commands to crawl while keeping his hands in the air. 

Oregon has a unique and darkly racist past. The state was founded as a bastion for white separatists on the eve of the Civil War. Though invalidated by the 14th amendment, the black exclusion clause of the state constitution remained on the books into the 1920s. The state’s system of non-unanimous criminal jury convictions — which often have the effect of invalidating the dissent of lone jurors of color — was in effect until it was ruled unconstitutional this year. Portland remains the whitest big city in America, and had never had a black woman on the city council until last year.

After a weekend of violent clashes and property damage, which spurred Mayor Ted Wheeler to impose a curfew on this city of 650,000, some 200 protesters gathered on Monday afternoon in front of the federal courthouse and in the park across the street. The activists raised fists and waved signs — “Prioritize Black Lives Over White Comfort”; “White Silence is Deafening”; “COVID-19 Will Resolve; RACISM is the PANDEMIC”— and erupted in cheers when a driver honked or returned a raised fist in support.

The protest is peaceful — and too timid for some. A black woman with a crown of dreads and a blue mask pulled down below her chin chides the crowd: “What are we cheering?” she asks. “This is a joke!”

A young white man, tall with a sleeve of tattoos, engages her. “We’re going to get bigger,” he offers. “We had 5,000 people here last night.”

Shaking her head, the woman pushes the largely white crowd to get out of its comfort zone. “Interrupt traffic! Interrupt their game,” she yells. “I’m not here for fucking clapping. Somebody beeps? That’s nothing! That’s not going to end racism,” she adds, exasperation in her voice. “That’s not going to make my black ass safe.”

“We hear you!” a lone voice yells from the crowd.

“C’mon! Get in the streets! Interrupt traffic,” she pleads. “Every day. Every day. Every day. Fuck 12! Fuck the police!”

“Fuck 12!” the crowd roars back.

Protesters who had been lining either side of the one-way street fronting the courthouse now crowd into the intersection, chanting, “Black Lives Matter!”

They begin marching, against traffic, toward a pair of police SUVs that had parked, blocking an intersection a hundred feet away. Anticipating a clash between protesters and cops, this reporter took a moment to look for exit routes. But when I looked up again, the cops had, uncharacteristically, de-escalated, driving off and ceding the street to the marchers.

Portland remains under a broad stay at home order because of the coronavirus pandemic. With looting of the past nights — which hit the Apple store, City Target, and the Pioneer Place mall — much of downtown has been up-armored in plywood. And it stands nearly empty. What few cars remain on this street weave slowly between the marchers who fill three lanes of traffic. 

They are moving faster now, past a shuttered Ross, past a boarded jewelry store, past a bar with a shattered window. The street is a din of chants and horns and hollers: “We want justice! We want justice! We want justice!”  

At the end of the parade of protesters there’s a young woman wearing a Mexican flag like a cape. She waves a smoldering smudge of sage over her head. It is still Portland, after all. Trailing behind, taking notes, I lose contact with the marchers at the boarded up Church of Scientology. They move ahead, demanding this famously progressive city live up to its professed ideals, slowly disappearing into a cloud of spiced smoke.

 

 

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