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The safety of Portland protestors is under threat due to aggressive car drivers

Posted by on June 17th, 2020 at 1:26 pm

A car driver drove toward a large group of marchers on SE Powell near Cleveland High School on June 13th.
(Still image taken from PPB video)

I was afraid of this.

For years we’ve been warning about the threat of vehicular violence by people using cars. Now it’s on the rise amid the daily marches against police violence and racism that have been going on in Portland for three weeks straight.

There have been several documented cases of Black Lives Matter protests being disturbed by car drivers intent on causing harm. Below are six seven of them.

— On May 29th someone driving a Volkswagen sedan drove into a man riding a skateboard near NE Grand and Shaver. The incident was caught on camera by The Oregonian photographer Dave Killen.

— On June 2nd, Portland Police Bureau officers drove their SUVs through protesters at SW 6th and Yamhill adjacent to Pioneer Courthouse Square. This incident was particularly disturbing because it’s these same officers we rely on to prevent and protect us from this type of behavior.

— On June 8th someone deliberately drove their car through protestors near the I-84 overpass at NE 33rd. According to a bike patrol volunteer I spoke to who witnessed the incident, the driver, “Bobbed and weaved through several people.” The witness tried to block the driver with his bike and then threw his bike on the driver’s hood after he tried to swerve around. “He got out of the car screaming and yelling and poking his chest out,” the witness recalled. Protestors surrounded the man and one person took his keys. I’m not sure how the incident ended, but organizers of the march likely resolved the issue themselves.

— On June 10th a car driver sped dangerously through a very peaceful Black Girls Do Bike Ride as hundreds rode south on North Michigan Ave. The man turned right from Jessup, clipping the back wheel of one rider and scaring many others.

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— On June 13th someone driving a small hatchback broke through lines of street patrol volunteers and threatened the safety of protestors on SE Powell near 31st. The car and its driver were then surrounded by protestors, some of whom broke its windows and slashed its tires before the driver was able to speed away. The Portland Police Bureau issued a statement and shared video of incident saying, “A motorist became entangled in the march and some individuals associated to the demonstration broke multiple car windows, stabbed the tires and chased the vehicle as it attempted to leave the location.”

Here’s PPB video of the incident:

On June 16th, someone intentionally drove through protestors downtown near SW 3rd and Alder. According to the PPB the driver hit three people and left the scene, “a high rate of speed, driving the wrong way on streets.” Kevin Parks took video and shared it on Twitter:

Two of the victims had trauma-level injuries and were taken to a hospital to be treated. The driver was ultimately found and arrested near SE Clinton and 100th Avenue. He was charged with felony hit-and-run and possession of a controlled substance.

A Portlander who goes by “antload” and uses a bike to protect protestors, posted on Instagram about this incident and said, “We need more white-skinned allies to shield and record demonstrations. Every day.”

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Having more bodies between these drivers and protestors might limit the damage, but it’s hardly a perfect solution. And given how much we’ve been told for years that police escorts and supervision is imperative for marches and mass gatherings, it’s a remarkable feat that these dedicated volunteer organizers have kept things so calm and safe and have managed to prevent any major incidents thus far.

Traffic safety volunteers directed drivers away from marchers as they entered I-405 during a protest last night.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

What else can be done?

The size of the protest matters. When one driver faces a sea of thousands, they’ll be much more intimidated than if they see just a few dozen. So show up if you can.

Given that the route of daily marches on the west side (organized by Rose City Justice) are not disclosed, it’s not feasible to erect barricades (nor would it be possible over such a long distance) to protect marchers. Perhaps organizers and/or city leaders could consult new design guidance for “Protest Streets” released this week by the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

It’s also vital that people document these incidents. If you see something happening, get out your phone and start recording. Having a license plate number and descriptions of the car and its driver can help bring them to justice.

We’ll continue to track these incidents. If you see any vehicular violence on Portland streets, please contact us.

Further reading: Why vehicle attacks against protestors are rising, published by Bloomberg News on June 3rd.

UPDATE, 6/18: On June 17th there were two incidents of vehicular violence during the Rose City Justice March. One volunteer corker/bicycle squad member was the victim of a hit-and-run while protecting an intersection near SE 6th and Main. Another volunteer corker was protecting marchers at SE 14th and Stark when the driver of a Ford F150, “stopped and then decided to run their car full throttle into the bicyclist, throwing him onto their windshield and off his bike,” according to someone who witnessed the incident. The driver was chased down and found to be “wasted” so someone grabbed their car keys. It’s worth noting that in this case (and others listed in this post) no one is calling the police to report these collisions. People stayed with the injured bike rider and made sure he got help while others got the drivers insurance and contact information. “Both driver and cyclist were taken home safely,” the witness said.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Moto-terrorismRacer XEawristeJoseph EKyle Banerjee Recent comment authors
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Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It’s going to be a summer to remember.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Who comes to a protest like this on a motorcycle? (*Were they there to be a guardian or to stir things up?) It looks like the motorcyclist punctured the car tires etc. (person then on foot with high vis vest + helmet + back pack vs the “mono wheel guy”.

*Per the PPB POV of the footage we do not know what happened to start this interaction.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

To have popular support, protests need to be broad-based and inclusive so one would hope a few motorcyclists would show up.

The only people you don’t need to worry about alienating are the 90%+ of the population that drives since what they think and do is irrelevant to addressing racial disparities and police brutality.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

Maybe your writing and editorial time could be saved by having some kind of permanent sidebar titled “Motorists Behaving Badly.” Then you could just drop in photos, addresses and short descriptions of the growing number of instances of those in “Club Auto ” acting out. With the way things are going there might not be much room left for the actual bike stuff.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I was an eyewitness (with an excellent vantage point) to the June 13 incident, and while I’m not prepared to draw a conclusion about whether the damage to the vehicle was justified, I will note that almost all of it occurred after the driver had stopped and was trying to turn around. My sense at the time was that the punctured the tires and especially the kicked-in the side panels and broken windows were punishment rather than prevention of an act of violence (I believe the driver was unaware that the street was filled with protestors ahead, and instead thought there as a thin line of people causing mischief by blocking Powell that he could push his way through). The driver was pursued off-camera by the white car, and both reappeared several minutes later. I don’t know what happened while they were gone.

I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether mob violence is preferable to police violence.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Of course you find one man bites dog incident and post it like it is the norm….

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Some people are using the same argument with examples of police brutality. They are just “isolated incidents” and not indicative of a trend.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I don’t always agree with you, Kitty, but I’ll just say that I agree with your sentiment here and I will answer your question by saying that mob violence is *definitely* not preferable to police violence. The only ray of light in that terrifying video is the woman who calls out, when the guy starts smashing the back window, “Cut it out!” We need more brave people who will call out misbehavior, whatever its form.

David Hampsten
Guest

Comment of the week.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

(I believe the driver was unaware that the street was filled with protestors ahead, and instead thought there as a thin line of people causing mischief by blocking Powell that he could push his way through)

This is the issue.

Dan
Guest
Dan

He may have thought that, but apparently his approach to “pushing through” was to accelerate through a group of people standing in front of his car.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It all depends if it is your mob or their mob.

maxD
Guest
maxD

I found that video disappointing and disturbing. I feel the same fear and outrage watching that as I did watching the Malheur takeover. Fortunately, I think that is the antithesis of these marches and demonstrations have been like and been about. I have been moved and impressed with passion and commitment of some many young people, and the courage and leadership coming from our minority communities.

mran1984
Guest

I would rather be hit by a car than a bullet from someone driving a car.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Prepare for the new normal. Researches who cite history say these periods of civil unrest usually last from five to 15 years. Watch your back.

David Hampsten
Guest

It looks more like “mission creep” (and rather ironic) when the protests are no longer really about protecting the rights of people of color, but have gradually become more about the right to protest itself and for pedestrians and bicyclists to block car traffic, especially for multi-ethnic people using Powell Blvd by car to get back home in poorer East Portland. Very Portlandia.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I wouldn’t say it’s become more about the right to protest. Rather, it’s almost entirely about the protesters themselves. It’s appropriation in one of it’s worst forms.

“Street patrol volunteers” is another word for vigilantes. If a bunch of “street patrol volunteers” intent on demonstrating gun rights harassed, stopped, and vandalized the transportation of those they didn’t like, I somehow imagine both the cops and the people taking the streets would be perceived in a different light.

The people who support this stuff is a major reason why cycling never gets anywhere.

David Hampsten
Guest

I note that PBOT is offering free parking at all parking meters downtown all day Friday (excluding the 5 city-owned parking garages) to celebrate the end of slavery in the US. (I’m not sure what parking cars has to do with black slavery in the eyes of PBOT, but I digress.) In the next exciting episode of Portlandia, given the escalation of the protests, there will be another round of downtown vandalism on Friday night, with employees valiantly defending Voodoo Donuts and Powell’s City of Books, followed by a declaration of martial law and a dusk-to-dawn curfew enforced by the Oregon National Guard, by the reactionary LGBT Democratic governor of Oregon. Ongoing street battles with rubber bullets, beanbag pellets, water cannons, pink bubblers, Molotov cocktails, and Zoo Bombers will ensue.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

I would expect no less.

The US had embarked on a seismic shift in attitudes about racism — even the NFL and NASCAR made clear and unambiguous moves.

And then a bunch of white guys took it over and made it all about themselves.

So I guess the protests are about racism, or at least keeping it alive and well.

Only Portland “progressives” could take all that positive momentum and somehow get the general public yearning for the police to come down heavy.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Quick correction: these marches are organized by Rose City Justice, which is an black-led organization. I don’t disagree that some white people are jumping on the bandwagon, but the direction is set (literally and figuratively) by black organizers.

Also, while a protest that meekly stays in a park so no one will be inconvenienced will certainly be more palatable for motorists, the visibility and impact of such a protest would be hamstrung, and I don’t think that “palatable for motorists” is one of the goals of the protests, nor should it be.

Kyle Banerjee
Guest

Palatability to motorists shouldn’t be a goal, but hostility to them shouldn’t be sucking all the oxygen from the real issue.

The protest takes on a totally different meaning to the vast majority of people who see vehicles getting trashed.

Just as the emerging Juneteenth holidays and the felling of Confederate statues everywhere are a direct response to the over the top racism by the President and his supporters, this type of action is a hijack that distracts people away from systemic racism. Moreover, it vaporizes support and sympathy for cycling and active transport by giving it a face that few want any association with.

Eawriste
Guest
Eawriste

We’re talking about a person who intentionally directed their heavy metal box toward other people disregarding their lives and safety. If the vast majority of people only see a “vehicle getting trashed,” that is a serious cultural misperception, not a hijacking of the message.

Fred
Guest
Fred

My sense of this situation, especially based on the Slate article from the Monday roundup, is that it’s The Same Old Story: anyone who has ever ridden a bike for any length of time can confirm how empowered many car-drivers (and especially truck-drivers) feel. Driving a car (and especially a truck) gives them the right to yell at people, throw things, blast the horn, swerve dangerously, etc – all b/c no driver is ever held accountable for this type of misbehavior. It’s only logical that the same crowd will decide that driving a car (or a truck) into protestors is the best way to send them a message that their protesting is not desired and they better cut it out.

In a better world, motorcycle cops would position themselves strategically behind protestors and guard the crowd against incursions by vehicles. Police should be upholding the right of people to protest peacefully and be free from harm by idiots, not just guard the Justice Center.

John Henry
Guest
John Henry

Perfect, you should be a cop.

David Hampsten
Guest

Smart car, even if the driver wasn’t…

Dan
Guest
Dan

“attempted to leave the location”, what a joke. The protesters were providing alternate routes; if leaving the location was the goal, he didn’t have to use his car as a weapon, he could have just used one of the suggested alternate routes at the cost of adding a few minutes to his drive. Instead, he decided he’d rather try to hit people on foot. As cyclists, we’re all familiar with this level of entitlement from drivers, but that doesn’t make it less disgusting.

Joseph E
Guest
Joseph E

Re: “On June 10th a car driver sped dangerously through a very peaceful Black Girls Do Bike Ride as hundreds rode south on North Michigan Ave. The man turned right from Jessup, clipping the back wheel of one rider and scaring many others.”

It’s shocking that this could happen on that street. North Michigan Avenue is a “Neighborhood Greenway” with speed humps and sharrows on every block for its entire length, and currently there are diverters or signs which say “local traffic only” at the major cross-streets: https://bikeportland.org/2019/07/10/pbot-adds-more-diversion-to-north-michigan-avenue-greenway-302235
http://pdx.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=08e3f719c5ec4be195f17c38cff8fce3

Moto-terrorism
Guest
Moto-terrorism

If a black driver “became entangled” with a group of police officers, they would riddle the car with bullets. Police need to take this more seriously. A car is a deadly weapon. Attack someone with it by attempting to “push through” human bodies and that’s attempted murder or at least aggravated assault. Rev your engine and charge a group or take a near swipe and that’s felony menacing with a deadly weapon. When people start getting actually charged, then it will stop. Do the police really want people driving around ramming each other over politics? It’s terrorism. A stolen semi could kill hundreds of protestors or riot police.