As much as I like saying that Portland’s unofficial forecast is “cloudy, with a chance of protests”, I have to admit that the last 36 hours have caught me off guard.
The city was effectively sent to its room last night beginning at 8 PM via a curfew order from the Mayor. This was in response to rioters coat-tailing on a vigil for George Floyd in one of North Portland’s parks on Friday afternoon. I was actually driving that day and ended up taking three groups over and taking two home on return trips.
The traffic was a nightmare.
In retrospect, I should have seen the riots coming since I actually said the words “What kind of vigil breaks up before the candles come out at dusk?” as I dropped of my last riders. People were leaving, yet others were still en route to gather.
Maybe I was distracted at the welcome home I got when I pulled up to my building around 9:30. Once again, two of the five park blocks I live on were cordoned off and surrounded by police cruisers with their lights flashing.
Just so you know the proximity here, the park blocks run as follows:
Burnside – Couch (pronounce it right in your mind, we’ve talked about this…Cooch)
Couch – Davis
Davis – Everett
Everett – Flanders
Flanders – Glisan
I live in the Everett to Flanders block and the police had cordoned off half of my front yard as well as the entirety of the Flanders to Glisan block. They had also closed off Flanders from Park Ave (my street) up to Broadway, two blocks ahead.
I asked a dog walking neighbor what was up and he said there had been a shooting.
Weird. Remember when Portland was Stabby and not shooty?
Maybe that was inappropriate, so I followed it up with asking about the victim. Apparently, hit in the chest, but expected to survive.
Nonetheless, my mental abacus was not adding things up.
Later that night, around 10 PM when I tuned into the Instagram and saw march videos on my friends’ stories. It looked like they were downtown, which is in the Southwest quadrant of town.
For context, I live in the Northwest quadrant and the vigil was in the North quadrant.
Sidebar: We just added a sixth quadrant, South Portland. Because Portland is weird and when the root of the word is Latin-ish for “four”, we’re gonna have six, dammit.
I’m not sure why I was surprised by this. Not only are we a town of liberal activism, but we are also a town of traveling and escalating protests. What starts as a vigil in one quadrant traveled through town and escalated into a protest and eventually a riot – and its not atypical for a freeway to be blocked by protesters marching across or down it, either. And the further they march, the more destructive the protest gets.
It’s like I forgot Portland’s other nickname: Little Beirut.
Sure enough, the rioters in Southwest broke into and burned the Justice Center. Well, started a fire at, at any rate. It was a big building on Friday morning and when I walked by it Saturday morning…still a big building. It’s not like it burned to the ground.
Here’s what caught me off guard, though: usually I witness the escalation. Living where I do, well…I’m centrally located. Even to the occasional chaos.
Maybe it’s because my county – Multnomah – is the only one in the state that is not yet in phase one of the reopening plan (which I’m happy about). In non-lockdown situations, this is the time of year is normally be sitting at a sidewalk cafe enjoying an adult beverage with one of the Foxes Silver or Filipina. Such as it is, no restaurants or bars are presently open for sidewalk socializing.
I woke up Saturday morning to scattered stories – both news and Insta – of the destruction in Southwest Portland. Not only had the Justice Center been burned. Several jewelry stores and store fronts (Louis Vuitton and Apple among them) had had their windows broken out and been looted.
There were pictures of smashed iPads and empty velvet bracelet displays on the streets and sidewalks of downtown.
And social media was melting down.
All while protests continued throughout the morning and afternoon in Southwest.
I watched the shameful debacle from my couch – taking a break for a little juxtaposed National Pride moment to watch the SpaceX launch. But the thing that kept popping into my head (and the reason I called these protests a debacle) was, “This isn’t working”.
This. Isn’t. Working.
One young e-quaintance posted this to his story, he’d been downtown at the protests and took some video, surprised that cops were firing tear gas and – what he thought – bullets into the crowd. In his video, I could hear him shrieking “They started this. The cops started this!”
His last story was from his car, filming cops walk by in his drivers side rear view mirror, saying he wasn’t close enough to see if the shots he heard were bullets or not. Mind you, he was close enough to see the cops allegedly smiling and laughing through their riot gear.
I asked him…well, I’ll just show you
See how I have to apologize at the end for pointing out logic? Peaceful protests are our right, guaranteed by the Constitution. But in order to protect citizens from being victimized by one another exercising their First Amendment rights, cities across the country have enacted laws requiring protests to have permits in order to be deemed legal.
In other words, no one person or group’s right supersedes or negates any one else’s.
An interesting point to overlook, given this protest was being conducted under the auspices of one individual being deprived his right to life and an entire race being denied their right to equality and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.
He – dammit, they…they are trans – didn’t respond. You can see that they read the message.
It’s telling to see someone, especially a trans person – one of the presently most vocal groups on the subject – protesting privilege and lowering themselves into the melee of “Fuck the Police” and then going silent when pushed for details.
Oh, you don’t know if the protest you participated in was legal or not? But you still jumped on the bandwagon of bashing the authorities when they did their job and broke your protest up? <bloop> Privilege.
I should note, ACAB is shorthand for “All Cops Are Bastards”. You will also see it coded into 1312, which was not only the unit number of my condo in Seattle, but also the alphabetically numeric equivalent of ACAB. Sometimes people actually have the balks to post (spray paint) their message to a broad audience instead of just speaking their coded lingo to rile up their own little subversive slice of the population by saying “Fuck the Police”. It’s not a blanket statement I endorse. Which isn’t unusual for me. I typically resist generalizations.
Elsewhere on social media, another guy I know posted an nifty little blurb about the history of riots.
The Boston Tea Party.
The Stamp Riots.
One that I didn’t know about that led to the creation of the District of Columbia. I thought that was interesting.
“Riots work” was his point.
It was impressively put together to illustrate his point. Yay, facts.
Yet I couldn’t help but notice that none of the examples he posted were race riots.
Selma, Alabama? Not a part of his argument.
Nothing on the Watts riots from the 60s.
OJ’s LA riots in the 90s? Nope.
More recently, St Louis or Charleston? Absent.
This. Isn’t. Working.
Me, being me, I jumped into the comment thread. I actually said that I agree with the right to protest and demonstrate. However, in a time where the 24-hour news cycle is a thing and our population is dense enough – not to mention our seat of government being conveniently located on the same continent and not weeks away by boat – that maybe such extreme methods such as massive scale property destruction are no longer effective at communicating one’s message.
Perhaps, I posited, destructive riots no longer effect change as they once did, so much as they empower disenfranchised fringe populations with the opportunity to therapeutically retaliate for their impotence. Wasn’t one of these disenfranchised populations responsible for the results of the 2016 elections? Trump whipped the uneducated and (latent and overt) racist elements of our country up – enabling them by giving voice to their shamefully harbored secrets – to protest vote versus sitting the vote out in their collective powerlessness while progressives and liberals sat the vote out in protest because their candidate didn’t get the nomination.
So we protested.
Then, we rioted.
Maybe, my point is, if the most effective examples of riots leading to change are from a century or almost three ago, that should tell us something.
Maybe if the most current example you have of an effective riot is 50 years ago and still not 100% resolved, “effective” isn’t an accurate description.
Maybe if you have to disregard the most pertinent examples of recent riots because change has not been affected then you need to ask if riots are, indeed, actually effective.
Maybe, in a population as dense as ours – both definitions of the word being applicable – a vigil or peaceful protest is just a clarion call to those same disenfranchised folk Trump whipped up during his campaign to come out and play.
So my point to my friend was, maybe we need to find a way to change how our message is communicated. For the effort of asking a question, I was rewarded with this response from a stranger – no context, just this
Yes, thank you for posting the point I said I understood – in meme form. Fucking Android users.
My point had been whether these lather, rinse, repeat protests were actually meeting our demand to be recognized.
I think not so much anymore.
Well, because capitalism will just make more of whatever is destroyed. All rioting and looting seems to be doing any more is heightening demand to produce more.
How is that effective?
We can quote him, name streets after him all over the country and observe his birthday as a national holiday; but if we don’t understand the meaning behind his words have we actually heard Doctor King’s words? Let alone…learned from them.
I took a public speaking course a while back – sometime between present day and MLK’s assassination – and I learned something interesting.
It stuck with me.
Basically, the point of the lesson was that it’s a speaker’s responsibility to present their message in a manner in which it will be received. That served me well as a manager of people. Whether it was a group setting or one-on-one communication, if I wanted people to listen, I had to talk to them. If I only wanted them to hear me, then it didn’t matter what I said or how I said it, because hearing and listening are two different things.
I can hear the news and police helicopters buzzing around outside my home. They were there at 11 PM last night, they are there now.
I hear them.
But I’m not listening to them. I don’t like what they are telling me. As much a fact, I’m actively trying to tune them out.
That’s what I think protesters need to ask themselves.
Who is listening to your message? Right now, it seems the people in power are at worst actively trying to tune you out and at best, trying to undo the collateral damage you are doing from the rioters who heard and were enabled by your words.
This is not working.