The organizer of a protest on Southeast Division Street Friday brought a gun with him — and proceeded to hold it in his hand as a counter-protestor rode up to his car. The incident was caught on video (watch it above) and happened prior to the protest while the organizer of the event sat in the front seat of his car with the window rolled up.
The man behind the “Just Say No To PBOT” protest was Randy Philbrick, a self-described public safety specialist and former EMT and private security guard. Philbrick (under the name Portlanders For Positive Impact) said he feels the addition of a bus priority lane and protected bike lane on SE Division (a joint project by TriMet and the Portland Bureau of Transportation) is unsafe. He and a few other supporters who joined him Friday, also feel like the City of Portland has not adequately listened to their concerns.
When news of the gun spread on Twitter over the weekend, many people reacted with fear and indignation (it didn’t help the situation that I carelessly tweeted a selfie with Philbrick after we finally had a conversation at the end of the event — it’s a long story). The man Philbrick unholstered his gun in the presence of was Garrett Miles, who organized a counter protest and who had been going back-and-forth with Philbrick on Twitter since the event was announced. Miles called the police immediately. They responded and talked to both men, but the police did not take any actions. According to Miles (who I interview in the video), the police said it’s not against the law for a legal gun owner to have a gun in their possession and it’s not considered “brandishing a weapon” if it is not pointed at someone.
In an emailed statement after the event, Miles wrote,
“While I don’t believe Randy is a horrible person, I still don’t think he should have organized this protest in the manner that he did (by parking in the bus/bike lanes), and I definitely don’t think he should have brought, let alone brandished, the gun at me. Randy has a right to his opinions and I love debating with him on Twitter, but the gun and illegal parking of his car put lives in danger.”
For his part, Philbrick sees the incident differently. In a statement after the event, Philbrick wrote,
“His account isn’t what he’s saying. Having had threats of violence against me and my car, him riding up on me wasn’t his best move. Not knowing his intentions, I did unholster my gun and laid it on my center console just in case. I never pointed it at him, nor did I chamber a round as he told the police. I know the consequences of those actions. He’s embellishing the facts to play the victim and an attempt to defame my character.”
As to why the police didn’t cite Philbrick for blocking the travel lanes? Miles said they likened it to a protest similar to the Black Lives Matter events of 2020. In the case of the racial justice protests, police did allow some of them to block traffic, but others were brutally cracked down on with tear gas and riot squads.
Once the protest began, Philbrick stood silently outside his car in the red bus-only lane and protected bike lane as busy afternoon traffic roared just a few feet away. On several occasions, drivers tried to make a u-turns and would have to stop and reverse as they came up on Philbrick.
Eager to hear Philbrick’s perspective, I approached him multiple times and asked questions. But he ignored me and refused to answer. He also did not engage with counter-protestors. Philbrick maintains that since our story about his event went up he has received threats from multiple people. At the protest, he felt engaging with them would lead to confrontations.
For the first hour and 45 minutes or so, Philbrick stood by himself as counter-protestors tried to engage with them. Some heckled him and argued against the traffic safety ideas he’s shared online. Across the street, a group of about 7 counter-protestors stood holding signs. Bike advocate Kiel Johnson made several of them and passed them out to others.
“It’s so unfortunate that this guy is blocking the bike lane,” Johnson said. “He’s making it a lot more dangerous for people to ride down the street. And he’s also blocking the transit lane, which is going to affect a lot of transit riders. I’m glad that he’s the only one who showed up to this doesn’t seem like he has very much support at all.”
Eventually a few folks did show up to support Philbrick. One of them (and the only other person to join him in the “park in” was Fatima Magomadova, owner of a market a few blocks away and one of the loudest critics of the changes on Division.
Magomadova said the design only makes things worse. She thinks the bus lane isn’t needed and that bicycle riders don’t belong in the street. But it’s the center median that Magomadova reserves her strongest critique.
“They [the median islands] are absolutely unsafe,” Magomadova shared with me during an interview in the street. “Because you have to do all these u-turns. They are frustrating drivers, there is congestion and traffic, and there’s a huge chance that your car cannot make it… I have videos where trucks actually get on top of the medians, and cars flipping over medians.”
If Magomadova had her way, SE Division would have more room for drivers, and no bike riders at all. “It is not safe for the bicyclists to use this bicycle lane,” she said. “What is safer would be able to have a wider sidewalks where they can ride their bicycles on a shared sidewalk. We have to u-turn into the bike lane. If there is a bicyclist [while a driver is u-turning], we’re going to kill him.”
Meanwhile, several bicycle riders rolled by the protest. One of them told me, “I think this protest is ridiculous. Division is already a dangerous street to bike on. And the addition to the bike lane and making it more protected is a great thing to do. Making the street more dangerous as a form of protest doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.”
After the tense moment with the gun prior to the start of the protest, things were relatively chill. There was one shoving match between a supporter of Philbrick’s and a counter protestor, but it didn’t escalate to punches.
As the hours wore on, the differing factions came closer together and, while the conversations were heated, at least folks were listening to each other and hearing a different perspective. Maybe some learning and understanding happened. Maybe not! I personally put down my camera and got involved in some of the debates myself.
I stayed until the very end. And just before he hopped in his car and drove away, Philbrick came over to me. I was surprised, since he’d refused to talk all day. Yet suddenly, he was very willing to talk off the record. I agreed. We shared our perspectives on traffic safety and agreed to disagree on several points. He said he’s serious about wanting to make things better and hopes that he can work with myself and other advocates in the future. I didn’t make any promises; after all, this is a guy who I’ve ignored online for months because of how rude and toxic some of his posts have been toward me and BikePortland (I also don’t agree with his approach to traffic safety). But after our chat, and in a moment of joy from making a communication breakthrough with someone who just hours prior I was yelling at and being ignored by, I tweeted a selfie with Philbrick. I thought it would be helpful, but many people were offended and shocked that I would sanitize a guy who showed up to a protest against a bike lane with a gun. It was a careless mistake I should not have made, and I have since deleted all the tweets about it.
What a bizarre protest and strange few days.
Hope this video and additional context has been helpful. If not, ask me anything in the comments below — and/or I’ll see you at Happy Hour this week (Weds, 3-6 pm at Gorges Beer Co, SE Ankeny and 27th). Stuff like this is really hard to talk about online and I’d love the opportunity to explain things in person.