Thousands March in Portland for Breonna Taylor’s Birthday

Organizers lead thousands of protesters Friday night along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Portland. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — The rain couldn’t stop thousands from hitting the streets in Portland Friday to march in support of the movement for black lives.

Protests continued in Portland for the ninth straight day, sparked by the killing of George Floyd from a heart attack the county medical examiner said was caused when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nine minutes.

A massive crowd amassed at a park outside Southeast Portland concert venue Revolution Hall on Friday before marching across the Hawthorne Bridge and rallying at Waterfront Park.

Speakers called for an end to the no-knock warrant, which police in Louisville, Ky. used March 13 to enter the home of Breonna Taylor before shooting her to death in what they later said was part of a drug sting. The three officers involved are on administrative leave, and no charges have been filed. Taylor would have turned 27 today.

Portland has a reputation for progressive leadership, but police shoot and incarcerate black people at rates disproportionate to their percentage of the population. Students at the city’s historically black high school can’t drink water from the tap because the district has prioritized remodeling projects at other schools, instead of updating plumbing that contains lead.

The state was founded on laws meant to keep black people out. In 1859, Oregon was founded with a constitution that explicitly banned African Americans from moving here, living here and owning property – at a time when the government gave hundreds of acres of land wrested from Native American tribes to every white settler who arrived.

In 1913, Oregonians organized the first chapter west of the Mississippi of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — a move made necessary by the racial violence turned on black Americans as they migrated out of the south, according to historian Jason Morgan Ward.

And black Oregonians have continued to fight for racial justice. A series of protests erupted in 1981 after two white Portland police officers admitted to leaving dead possums outside the Burger Barn, a popular black-owned restaurant.

The restaurant’s owners, George and Geraldine Powe, sued over the incident, saying they were afraid for their safety as police continued to harass them. They asked for $3.8 million and an injunction banning police policies and practices of racial discrimination and harassment. They wanted a plan to force the bureau to adopt training and police oversight. They ended up agreeing to a settlement of $64,000.

Protesters in 1981 held demonstrations to oppose police harassment against local black business owners George and Geraldine Powe.

On Friday, city leaders announced the adoption of one long called-for reform: the removal of Portland police from schools in the city’s three districts. In a tweet, Portland Public Schools Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero said some of the funding formerly spent on School Resource Officers was now proposed for “direct student supports” like social workers and culturally specific partnerships.

City commissioners and the Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union called for a ban on tear gas after Portland police launched canisters into a largely peaceful crowd on Tuesday night. But without the option of the chemical weapon police call “CS gas,” police would have to turn to other methods of violence instead, Portland Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

“The whole idea of that tool is to just get people out of the area that they are occupying,” Davis said. “And as you will read in our policy, it requires a fairly significant level of violence from the crowd. That objective is a lot safer, actually, to accomplish with the use of something like CS.”

Protesters and civil rights group Don’t Shoot Portland sued the city Friday, demanding an end to the use of chemical weapons like tear gas, which the lawsuit noted is especially dangerous when used against crowds during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Friday that he would support a ban on tear gas, as long as it was replaced by control measures that don’t escalate violence. Police refrained from using tear gas at thousands-strong protests on Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday afternoon, Deputy Police Chief Davis told reporters police had used a new weapon the night before. Davis said police used a long range acoustic device against protesters early Friday morning.

Speakers lead a crowd in chants Friday night at Portland’s Waterfront Park. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

“It’s very rare,” Davis said. “We haven’t always found it to be effective. It’s not something we use often because of mixed results.”

Journalists and civil rights activists sued over the use of the device in New York, saying it caused permanent hearing loss, recurring migraines and tinnitus. That case is awaiting trial.

Protests have been ubiquitous across Oregon all week, in smaller cities like Bend, Medford and Roseburg and even in rural towns like Pendleton, Klamath Falls, and Burns: the jumping off point for the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by right-wing militias that sought to wrest public land from the hands of the government and give it to local ranchers.

Americans overwhelmingly support the protests that have risen across the country. According to a poll released Wednesday by Monmouth University, 78% of the 805 Americans asked said the anger that led to the protests was either fully or partially justified. Another 54% said protesters burning the Minneapolis 3rd Police Precinct to the ground was either fully or partially justified.

The protesters, joined Thursday by Blazers superstar Damian Lillard, spent Friday night listening to speakers like 10-year-old Quinton Jones.

“I shouldn’t be told by my mom that if police stop me to to stop right there, put my hands up and not reach for anything,” Jones told the crowd. “I shouldn’t be followed in stores like I’m going to take something. I should be able to be a kid and do the things my friends do without my mom being scared I will be killed. I just want to live. Is that too much to ask?”

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