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Black Lives Matter protests continue to fight on despite the Trump administration’s feeble attempts to quell demonstrators in downtown Portland, Oregon. Approximately 1,000 protesters demonstrated in the city on Sunday, the 60th night of protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
Protesters marched toward the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse were met by federal agents with the Department of Homeland Security, who responded with tear gas and crowd control weapons, according to The Oregonian. Police claimed that around 11 p.m. people began shaking a fence around the courthouse while some shot fireworks over it.
Almost an hour later, people began to climb over the fence while another group lit a large fire in Lownsdale Square Park. Police alleged that people used shields and umbrellas to cover a person trying to cut through the fence, but photos also show people using those shields and umbrellas as federal officers launched an all-out assault on civilians.
CNN reported that federal agents deployed tear gas and flash bangs from behind the fence at the courthouse. Just before the agents deployed the gas, protesters had been peacefully chanting “Black Lives Matter.”
The scenes on the ground on Sunday were sadly not new. Federal agents have unleashed a militarized response to protesters in Portland in a show of force that one would imagine taking place in Hitler’s Germany or Pinochet’s Chile rather than in a supposedly free United States. Journalists on the scene reported federal agents bloodying protesters up or pulling them into unmarked vehicles.
Multiple videos circulating social media show protesters being grabbed by men in military fatigues—and sometimes in street clothes—before pulling them into unmarked vans. In one video, a woman can be seen down on the ground as a group of men in street clothes pull her to her feet and take her.
A bystander demands to know who they are but is threatened before they leave. “If you follow us, you will get shot. Do you understand me?”
“Mr. President, this is an attack on our democracy,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler tweeted on July 17. Ten days later, federal agents have not relented.
In response, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum opened a criminal investigation into the injury of at least one protester near the courthouse. Rosenblum also filed a lawsuit against federal agents for engaging in unlawful tactics and seeking a restraining order, The New York Times reported.
That’s not the only lawsuit the federal government is facing. A group of protesters has banded together to sue the Trump administration to claim federal agents violated their constitutional rights, went beyond their legal authority and are being led by someone who is not legally serving the role of DHS secretary, USA Today reported.
Protect Democracy filed the lawsuit on behalf of several individual protesters and the groups Don’t Shoot Portland and Wall of Moms.
“The intent of the administration’s deployment of federal agents in Portland appears to be to stifle speech the president doesn’t like,” Deana El-Mallawany, attorney for Protect Democracy, said in a statement. “It’s important to check this unlawful administration policy now, before it is allowed to spread to other cities across the U.S”
Is The Federal Response Even Legal?
Legal experts have questioned the legality of the actions taken by federal agents in Portland. The Trump administration claims federal officials and agents have been sent to protect federal properties and monuments, but they’ve done more than that. They have arrested civilians without explaining why or saying which agency they work for.
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf rejected allegations that agents arrested civilians without cause as “offensive, hyperbolic and dishonest,” according to USA Today.
“We will not retreat,” he said. “We will take appropriate action to protect our facilities. If we left tomorrow, they would burn that (federal courthouse) down. What we have in Portland is different than we have in any other city.”
Wolf denied allegations that federal officers did not carry identification or that they did not carry protesters who did not pose a threat. “These police officers are not storm troopers,” he maintained.
There’s also the question regarding Wolf’s authority. The Washington Post noted that Wolf has served as acting secretary of the DHS for more than 210 days allowed under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Nina Mendelson, a law professor at the University of Michigan, told the Post, that the law was violated by the Trump administration even before Wolf was appointed because Kevin McAleenan was acting secretary before him.
“The language of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act is very clear,” Mendelson told the newspaper. “It’s 210 days, beginning on the date the vacancy occurs, so an acting secretary cannot serve legally past that time.”
Editor’s note: We’ve opted to blur out the faces of protesters who may be too exposed to protect them from the authorities who may try to use facial recognition software to charge them.
At the end of each story about the Black Lives Matter protests occurring around the country, we will share the following information on how best to protect yourself:
Protecting Yourself From Tear Gas
- Before being exposed: Do not wear contact lenses or makeup. This could trap the tear gas on your skin and eyes. Try to wear protective goggles if possible. Remember to wear a mask, which you should already be wearing to protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect as much of your skin as possible.
- If exposed: Get yourself out of the area immediately. The CDC recommends seeking higher ground as most Riot Control Agents (RCAs) are heavier than air.
- Clothing: The RCAs will have contaminated your clothing, be sure to remove the clothes as soon as possible and discard. Clothing that needs to be removed over the head should be cut instead. The CDC recommends wearing rubber gloves and putting the contaminated clothes in a bag and then seal that bag in another bag.
- Exposed Skin: The International News Safety Institute recommends washing with soap and water. First, shower in cold water and then in warm water. Do not bathe. Wash your face as soon as you can, but do not rub the skin as you don’t want to activate the powder in tear gas. Do not rinse your eyes and face with milk, instead use water.
Protecting Yourself: Technology Edition
- Smartphone: Smartphones can easily give out information that police can later use against protesters. Turn off your location data and remove facial and fingerprint recognition. If you need to communicate with friends or family, be sure to download and use the Signal app, which encrypts messages. WIRED recommends Android users head to Settings, then Security and make sure the Encrypt Disk option is selected.
- Social Media: Do not post photos or videos with geotags and consider blurring the faces of protesters when sharing information on social media.
- Police Conduct App: The ACLU has created the Mobile Justice app to record police conduct. You can learn more about the app here.
- Identifying Clothing or Tattoos: It is highly recommended you wear clothing that is not easily identifiable. Be sure to cover any tattoos that can be used by law enforcement to identify you.
- In Case You’re Arrested: Write the number down of a lawyer, organization or friend/family member that you can call if you’re arrested on your skin. Be sure to have a form of ID in your pocket.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.