PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Some U.S. veterans are among those relieved to see federal agents take their leave of Portland in an exodus that was expected to begin Thursday.
Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Wednesday the federal government had agreed to withdraw its officers from the city. Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf confirmed the development, saying Oregon State Police would take their place.
That same night, protesters again clashed with federal officers in the streets and parks near the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse and Justice Center after officers declared an unlawful assembly and deployed tear gas. Federal officers streamed out of the Edith-Green Wendell Wyatt Federal Building and pushed toward the protesters on SW 3rd — but halted before a small, quiet line of veterans.
Desert Storm Army veteran Christine Van Osdol was among their ranks, holding an American flag.
“I’m out here to stand for the United States Constitution and for people’s right to free speech and to stand here and ask for better from our leaders,” she later told KOIN 6 News. “This breaks my heart. This is not what so many people fought and died for on the streets of our city. We do not want this on the streets of our city, they are committing war crimes against U.S. citizens for standing up for our Constitutional rights.”
Jiri River, an Air Force veteran, stood with her as the line of federal officers silently looked on.
“I felt a lot of rage and anger that all the tools that Uncle Sam gave me to try to better my life are being used to oppress people,” he said. “We’ve been doing these things overseas for decades and it’s terrifying to see in our towns, on our streets.”
Their show of defiance came just a week-and-a-half after Navy veteran Chris David was beaten and pepper-sprayed by federal officers during the 51st night of protests. He said he had asked the officers “if it was okay to violate their oath of the Constitution.”
“I stood there with my hands down by my sides and they just started whaling on me,” said David.
Scenes of people like David being repeatedly hit and doused in chemicals have been the tipping point for some who have joined in the protests simply to defend others.
“Definitely rage, horror, surprise and disbelief that this is happening… and that they’re experimenting on these protesters,” River said.
The officers opted to avoid confrontation with the wall of veterans on Wednesday night. It was an emotional standoff for Van Osdol, who is also a mother of four and a member of the Wall of Moms group.
“I’m proud of her, I’m proud of my wife — she stands up for what’s right,” her husband, Jason Thomas, told KOIN 6 News.
“I just didn’t want them to come and terrorize our people anymore,” Van Osdol said. “I feel like someone has to stand up and if not for this American flag, then what?”