PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For nearly two months, protesters have called for racial justice and an end to police brutality but there’s been a recent shift in the crowd.
Randy Blazak with the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes said he’s noticed a significant change in the group of protesters just within the last few days. He believes the change happened “almost overnight” when federal officers entered the city.
“When the federal forces showed up, it changed the tenor of the protests and the feeling of it that it’s not just about the Black Lives Matter movement; it’s now the threat of authoritarian rule in America,” Blazak said. “The unconstitutionality of these forces as some people see it as the threat of facism.”
It’s that threat, as it’s interpreted by some, that’s fueled more furious clashes between protesters and law enforcement than we’ve seen since the movement began.
“There’s now this huge melange of anti-government protesters that are focusing in downtown Portland,” he said. “If the president’s intention was to quell the protesters, to shut it down, it’s had the exact opposite effect.”
The presence of federal officers at ongoing demonstrations in downtown Portland has sparked outrage from local and state leaders.
Federal authorities have used tear gas on protesters repeatedly and are not held to the same use of force restrictions as Portland Police Bureau officers, who are under a temporary restraining order that limits the use of tear gas. A man was seriously injured at a July 12 demonstration outside the federal courthouse when he was struck in the head with a crowd control munition that was fired by a federal officer.
Blazak believes Portland police and protesters were in the early stages of starting an important dialogue before federal officers arrived.
“We were on that path and we were derailed from that path when the feds showed up to make things more intense. It was like throwing gas on the fire when it was starting to simmer a little bit and it’s taken us a completely different direction but it doesn’t mean we can’t go back to the path of de-escalation,” Blazak said.
Tuesday marked the 54th straight day of protests in the city. During that time, there has been destruction but the unrest has also sparked discussions.
“There are some real important conversations going on about institutional racism in our society including policing,” Blazak said. “There are conversations on how we have a more fair and just society and that gets lost in the cloud of tear gas.”