Portland vigil honors Elijah McClain with music as protests continue

2020 Protests

Protests in Portland began in late May after death of George Floyd

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Protests are expected in Portland this holiday weekend, continuing a month-long demonstration for racial justice that included 2 declared riots this week.

On Friday, the PDX Black Futures Protest began at 1:30 p.m. at Pioneer Courthouse Square. Organizers started the march shortly after 2:30 p.m. to kick off what they called the “Anti-Fourth of July weekend.” Demonstrators took a knee for several minutes at SW Harvey Milk Street and SW 4th Avenue to listen to speeches before marching on to Salmon Street Springs.

Participants were encouraged to wear black, a mask and practice social distancing. Speakers, poets and singers were slated to address an end to white supremacy in Oregon.

PDX Elijah McClain Violin Vigil

People gathered for a strings performance and vigil in Portland’s Peninsula Park to remember Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died in the summer of 2019 after police in Aurora, Colorado restrained him with a chokehold that has since been banned.

Chibia Ulinwa, organizer and musician, plays the violin at a microphone as part of a vigil for Elijah McClain in Portland’s Peninsula Park Friday evening. July 3, 2020 (KOIN)

Protests for McClain have been ongoing in Colorado. Protesters in Portland organized Friday’s vigil in solidarity.

“It’s a great way to speak out for the injustices we are currently witnessing here in America,” said musician and organizer Chibia Ulinwa. “Something about using the music that he wanted to give to the animals and to the people was just super inspiring for us.”

Members of the public were invited to bring their string instruments to the park and join in a musical tribute to McClain, who was known to play his violin for cats and kittens at his local animal shelter because he believed the music was soothing to them. His death has since sparked violin vigils across the nation.

“His story hit really hard for me, both as someone who plays violin and someone who is Black,” said Hunter Haynes. “The more that we can get him justice for what happened to him, the better. And I think using music as a tool to bring awareness to that is a powerful thing we can do as musicians and activists.”

Vigil for Elijah McClain held at Peninsula Park in North Portland. July 3, 2020 (KOIN)

People at Peninsula Park said he will be remembered as a gentle soul who loved to share the gift of music.

“We are just going to play whatever comes to our soul and being,” said Haynes.

“Hopefully, we can share his life beautifully tonight,” said Ulinwa.

Car Caravan Protest

Drivers and motorcyclists were expected to gather Friday evening for a Car Caravan Protest that went until 8 p.m. People met at the PCC Cascade behind the Student Services Building at Killingsworth and Albina.

Previous protests

The Thursday night demonstrations followed a now-familiar pattern: family-friendly and peaceful demonstrations throughout the city in the early hours, then a relatively small group of protesters clashed with police in often violent confrontations outside the downtown Justice Center.

After several hours of speeches and chanting, some protesters broke into the north side doors of the Justice Center before heading down to the Federal Courthouse — where glass doors were then broken.

Federal officers came outside to “protect the integrity” of the building, according to PPB. As protesters threw projectiles at the officers, a lit commercial-grade firework was thrown inside the building.

The PPB told demonstrators to disperse or else they would be subject to use of force and crowd control munitions, but demonstrators refused to budge.

Soon, a riot was declared.

On Tuesday, police also declared a riot after a few hundred people walked across I-5 and turned onto North Interstate Avenue around 9 p.m. PPB declared the group an unlawful assembly when it reached the 1800 block of North Lombard Street — near the Portland Police Association building. The situation escalated quickly into a riot.

That event sparked a letter from Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek to Mayor Ted Wheeler, decrying the “unnecessary escalation” by police.

The next day, Portland Police Union President Daryl Turner sent a blistering response to Kotek.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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