Images from the #NOTMYPRESIDENT protest here in Portland, Oregon have been startling, but not truly shocking. The protest was peaceful until the police showed up in riot gear and began making arrests.
All of this begs the question: What does a city have to gain by violently arresting people who are engaged in peaceful protests? Are the protesters breaking the law, as in this instance, by blocking traffic? Yes, but is this really how a city’s police should react? The ACLU of Oregon doesn’t believe so. Sarah Armstrong, spokeswoman for ACLU Oregon said, “When police show up in riot gear, it has the effect of escalating the situation.” If you don’t trust the ACLU, then you can also look at the 2014 Salon article, Researchers: Police Likely Provoke Protestors Not the Other Way Around. Or watch the documentary, “Do Not Resist.”
If you believe “enforcing” the law requires violence and the threat of violence, then that means you would happily live in an authoritarian society. Reading the comments section of any local news site would have me believe that many people do since any sign of disrespect for police seems to justify violence or death at the hands of that very police.
Our mayor, Ted Wheeler, has proclaimed that the city’s police will do better. He also said, “Democracy can be messy, that’s a fact. But as of late, it’s been far too messy here in Portland.”
He is, of course, referring the recent protests that have turned “messy”, including the inauguration protest or, more recently, the rally held on February 9th protesting the death of 17-year-old Quanice Hayes at the hands of police. Quanice was shot several times and allegedly was in possession of a fake handgun. One of the protestors who was arrested at yesterday’s event actually gave his name to police as “Quanice Hayes.”
The idea that protests should be neat and orderly, of course, flies in the face of reason. These speculations are comfortable for those of us who do not have family being deported, who know exactly where our loved ones are right now, and who haven’t lost a family member to this increasingly violent police state. It is easier for us to say, “Tsk, tsk. They broke the law – they had it coming.” They were in the street. They made my life uncomfortable. They blocked traffic. Never mind the devastation that occurs when we continue to hold onto the absurd hope that reason and cleanliness will save the day as our rights are slowly whittled away.
It won’t. Life is messy, and the more you have to lose when your rights are stripped away, the messier it will become. Our life isn’t about making things orderly, it’s about making things right. It’s about kindness in the face of “inconvenience.”
We need to do away with the war on our citizens and remember our police were never meant to be enforcers. They were supposed to be our protectors. Our peacekeepers. And I, for one, will never believe someone is a peace keeper if they arrive at a peaceful protest prepared for war.