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


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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