Protests that get violent rarely gain much traction in West Virginia. We’re more of a “respect authority” kind of people. But that’s not always the case. Mine wars come quickly to mind, as well as the Kanawha County textbook controversy. We even started the Great Railroad Strike of 1877. So, we can get riled. It just depends on where we stand if we’re appalled or not.
With that in mind, here are a few things you might not know about the current Portland, Oregon, protests.
Violent protests are as common in Portland as ramp feeds in West Virginia. They started over 40 years ago. More recently, Portland saw violence in the 2011 Occupy movement and protests after the 2016 election.
Months later, as the city was mourning the hate killings of two men, a far-right group popular with neo-Nazis and white supremacists held an “anti-antifa” rally, reported Katie Shepherd in The Washington Post.
Over 2,000 Portlanders marched against the extremists, and police detained 400. That launched nearly two years of protests, frustrating the police and the public. Out-of-town groups repeatedly rallied and marched and, repeatedly, locals countered.
From these conflicts, a pattern developed. Hours of protests deteriorated into fist fights, then the police would intervene with less-than-lethal weapons. The protests would eventually dissolve, and everyone would go home.
These conditions were ripe for a miscalculation, which happened in August 2018.
A police flash-bang grenade lodged into a protester’s bike helmet, then exploded, giving him a traumatic brain injury. A woman was severely burned when another canister ignited, and police caught men with long guns on top of a parking garage.
As clashes escalated, Portland’s image morphed to that of black-clad anarchists busting out windows, blocking traffic and fighting with cops, although thousands of peaceful protesters opposed them.
It’s not surprising then that protests reignited after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and have persisted for more than 56 consecutive nights.
By late June, the protests calmed. That was due, in part, to a judge limiting the police use of tear gas and other less-than-lethal munitions.
Crowds shrank. Music and barbecues across the street from the federal courthouse became a nightly event. Fewer major confrontations occurred.
Then, in early July, Buzzfeed reports, a task force of federal officers authorized by President Donald Trump arrived to “protect national landmarks.”
However, rather than remaining on federal property, they engaged protesters with less-than-lethal munitions and drove through the streets detaining people.
These agents have been condemned by Oregon’s governor, Portland’s mayor, both of Oregon’s U.S. senators, the Portland Police Bureau and the local sheriff.
Enter U.S. Marine Corps veteran Duston Obermeyer, 42, and U.S. Navy veteran Chris David, 53. David is the one whose beating went viral as he stood his ground while suffering three, double-handed billy club whacks and a face full of pepper spray. David and Obermeyer didn’t know each other, but each graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Both told the Guardian they wanted to know if federal agents knew about illegal orders. Military officers are required by law to disobey illegal or unconstitutional orders.
Obermeyer said the agents “... didn’t even give any warning, there was no ‘hey, you need to move,’ ‘hey, back up.’ There was basically them walking out and assaulting a protester just to prove that they could.” He continued, “Assaulting an unarmed protester who is exercising their first amendment rights is illegal, that’s an illegal order.”
The federal government may unquestionably use officers to protect federal property and to arrest those committing federal crimes, like assaulting a U.S. Marshals Service deputy. But federal officers don’t generally have the power to arrest people for violating state law — or to engage in riot control or respond to “violent crime.”
So, is the president protecting the people of Portland or manipulating them for campaign footage?
In the meantime, don’t think a disturbance in a 12-block area of Portland is a national rebellion. Besides, we West Virginians have even been protesters occasionally.