On Oct. 15, the Portland Police Bureau held a press conference to announce a new ordinance that would expand police power to limit protest activity. The proposal comes after two years of catastrophic attacks poised as political theater, including mass melees downtown that left people in the hospital, white nationalist contingents taking the streets and an acolyte murdering two people on public transportation when interrupted in the middle of an Islamophobic attack. Every time Patriot Prayer, the Trumpian far-right group who allies with white nationalists, takes to the streets, the entire city revolts.
On Aug. 30, Patriot Prayer returned to Portland after a rally a month earlier where attendees brutally assaulted counter-protesters. In response, over a thousand protesters – organized by Rose City Antifa and the Pop Mob coalition – came out to oppose them. The police presence was turned on the counter-protesters when their use of crowd-dispersal weapons seriously injured several demonstrators. The Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a long strip of grass banked up against the Willamette River that runs through the center of the city, was cordoned off for Patriot Prayer. To get access to the park Patriot Prayer had to formally accept a weapons ban, which was instituted after they called for attendees to open carry.
While they complied, the Portland police just released the fact that a Patriot Prayer contingent was found on the roof of an adjacent building with a stockpile of firearms and ready snipers. This information was revealed in a press conference called by the bureau after a weekend of violence from the Proud Boys, with attacks happening in New York City and during a “flash mob” style action from Patriot Prayer in Portland. Video shows Patriot Prayer attendees beating people with clubs and stomping on protesters subdued on the ground, yet no arrests were made.
Portland was nicknamed “little Beirut” by George H.W. Bush because of the flurry of protests in the city, which started in the 1980s and has continued ever since. The new ordinance gives the commissioner in charge of the Police Bureau the ability to issue regulations if certain conditions take place, such as if two opposing groups plan to demonstrate simultaneously or if they believe “there is a substantial likelihood of violence at the planned demonstrations based on the conduct of the group or information gathered in advance of the event.” This would give the police the ability to intervene on the time frame, direction and space protesters could occupy – all of which are based on subjective concerns.
While this order comes directly after an act of violence by the Proud Boys – attacks that the Portland police have been accused of not taking seriously in the past – many believe the decision will negatively affect left-wing demonstrations more than the right wing. At any given competing protest between Patriot Prayer and the larger community, the opposition usually takes the form of a mass action: marches, space occupation and activity that can disrupt the general goings-on of the city. That is the nature of concerted political action – it creates a disruption, and that is the point. Opposition protesters from the community dramatically outnumber the far-right clique of outsiders, which is what makes these actions successful.
If the new police measure is intended to protect those victimized by Patriot Prayer, then it misses the mark of exactly how and why harm takes place in the community. Those targeted by the far-right for violence are often targeted because of their marginalization: race, immigration status, gender identity, political orientation, etc. These are the same demographics most often facing police violence, which begs the question about whether freeing up riot police to further intervene in protest is really going to offer protection. It is unlikely that any community group involved in countering the far-right will see the most aggressive policing as a win.