The massive, pro-Trump caravan of car and truck drivers that rampaged through downtown Portland last Saturday is poised to return. On Monday, organizers plan to “rally for our President” and honor Aaron Danielson, the man who was shot and killed in one of the many altercations that took place during the chaotic event six days ago.
“They were unfriendly to say the least and most of the time they acted aggressively.”
— Tiago DeJerk, Critical Mass participant
By now everyone has seen the videos that clearly show illegal and reckless behavior from many participants. Despite all the menacing driving, blatant non-compliance with traffic laws, and using weapons and bear mace on bystanders, the Portland Police Bureau didn’t do much about it. At a press conference the next day Portland Police Bureau Chief Chuck Lovell made it clear they didn’t have a plan to address the automotive onslaught — beyond asking drivers to avoid downtown (although videos showed officers making no attempt to stand in their way).
Lovell said his officers were stretched too thin, that inserting them between opposing crowds is “not operationally feasible,” and slashing vehicle tires (something his officers have done many times at other protests) was also not possible.
This is quite a striking contrast to how they responded to a similar, emotionally-charged, vehicular protest known as Critical Mass.
When hundreds of bicycle riders held cruise rallies of their own in downtown Portland in the early 2000s, the PPB’s response was strong and swift. Thanks to Portlander Joe Biel, founder of Microcosm Publishing and creator of Aftermass, a film that chronicled the rise and fall of Critical Mass in Portland, we know the PPB pulled out all the stops to put an end to what they referred to internally as an “anarchist bike rally”.
Documents Biel obtained through a public records request revealed that the PPB assembled a “Critical Mass roster” specifically assigned to quell the ride each month. At one ride in November 2002 the PPB showed up with 49 officers: 21 motorcycles, 3 patrol cars, 13 officers on bikes and 12 on foot.
In the PPB report filed after the ride, an officer described a harrowing scene that served to justify the police presence: “The mass of bicyclists yelled as they moved their bicycles up and down above their heads. This type of behavior caused me to be alarmed, as there were many families and small children in the area, and the police were clearly outnumbered by this angry group of critical mass bicyclists. This group could have easily incited a riot.” Another officer wrote that he feared a rider would use his bicycle as a weapon against him.
“What [the police] are telling us, is that these behaviors are not something they are going to prioritize — and that’s dangerous.”
— Mark Ginsberg, lawyer
When Tiago DeJerk showed up to his first Portland Critical Mass in 2005 he was surprised by the heavy police presence. “The cops showed up with their own Critical Mass. They were unfriendly to say the least and most of the time they acted aggressively, doing whatever they could to split the groups, break up the ride.”
“They would come up with creative ways to bust people, interpreting the laws in ways to frame riders rather than provide security,” DeJerk recalled. He was shocked because of how fun and police-free the rides were in San Francisco. “I could not accept that Portland was a bike-friendly city when the authorities would dedicate so many resources to brutally repress bicycle group rides.” DeJerk remembers watching a friend be tackled to the ground after she stuck her tongue out an officer. “The cop who tackled my friend proceeded to kneel on top of her.”
Portland lawyer Mark Ginsberg (who specializes in traffic law cases) was active in bike advocacy in those days and often played the role of mediator between police and Critical Mass participants. He’s also been on the ground as a legal observer with the ACLU during the current Portland protests.
Ginsberg was surprised at the hands-off response to the pro-Trump rally. “We need to ask why our PPB and their leadership (Chief and Commissioner) are not involved in the leading of priorities. What they are telling us, is that these behaviors are not something they are going to prioritize — and that’s dangerous.” “We see PPB regularly puncturing tires of vehicles near BLM protests,” he continued. “They claim they were doing it because cars and protesters don’t mix. Yet downtown during daylight hours [during the Trump caravan], PPB let them mix, with no effort at visible presence, much less enforcement consistent with their own statements.”
As for the PPB’s claim of not having enough officers to respond, Ginsberg says, “PPB is making staffing choices, and then using those staffing choices to publicly state they cannot do other Police functions because they are stretched too thin.”
Organizers of Monday’s rally say they’ve already “reached out to local police” and that all drivers “must stick together.” “We are staying on Freeways we Are Not going off route,” the Facebook event description says. That was their plan last time too.
If the PPB truly wants to stop a repeat of Saturday and protect Portlanders from this anarchist car rally, they should dust off their Critical Mass playbook.
[UPDATE: Comments on this post have been closed.]
[UPDATE, 9/9: Comments on this post have been re-opened.]
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and email@example.com
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