Recently in a social media post, Congressman Guy Reschenthaler blamed the violent unrest in Portland, Ore., and other cities around the country on “anarchists and communists” and “spoiled brats.” This cannot be further from the truth. These peaceful protests, like the various ones held in Washington County last month, were in response to the death of George Floyd and were organized by local activists. The difference between what is happening in Portland, where police clash nightly with protesters, and here in Washington, where all of the protests were peaceful, can be traced back to the response of the local police departments, not the actions of the protesters.
Locally, activists and social justice groups organized the protests and worked with local police to make sure the events remained peaceful. During the march in Washington on June 6, city police Chief Robert Wilson was at the front of the protest. He expressed his support of the protesters and helped make sure their voices were heard and the event remained peaceful. The opposite has occurred in Portland. From the beginning of those protests the city police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds. These protesters were there to protest excessive police violence and were immediately met with the exact type of excessive police violence they were protesting.
In the past few weeks, federal agents have joined the fray in Portland, presumably to protect federal buildings (which had not been targeted in the protests). However, this unwanted intrusion dramatically increased tensions. These federal agents were not always identified as such, and several instances of protesters being grabbed and hauled into unmarked vehicles to be taken in for questioning were documented. This is a direct infringement on an individual’s liberties. The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution declares that the people have the right “to be secure in their persons … against unreasonable searches and seizures ...” In one instance, a man was pulled into an unmarked van, his cap pulled over his eyes, and he was taken to a federal courthouse where he was searched, mirandized, and let go shortly after requesting a lawyer without being given a reason for his arrest. This should never happen in America.
The violence in Portland has also brought nationwide press coverage. Instead of covering the events, members of the press were unlawfully targeted by police and federal agents. Tear gas and rubber bullets were unjustifiably aimed at the press and legal observers, who wore bright shirts identifying them as such. This led to the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon filing a lawsuit to allow journalists their uninhibited freedom of the press as guaranteed by the First Amendment. A federal judge agreed and banned Portland police and federal agents from interfering or threatening journalists and legal observers at protests in Portland.
In the past week, with the eyes of the nation watching the events transpire in Portland, the real “anarchists and communists,” as Reschenthaler likes to describe them, arrived on the scene to support the protesters. A “Wall of Moms” joined the protests as hundreds of moms from the Portland area stood arm-in-arm protecting the weary protesters from the federal officers. The moms were also targeted with tear gas and impact munitions. They were soon joined by a “Wall of Dads” and have since been joined by a “Wall of Veterans.” I truly hope his fellow veterans were not the “spoiled brats” Reschenthaler was referring to. Other groups also arrived to show support including nurses, teachers and union workers. None of these groups are “anarchists and communists,” as Reschenthaler claims. Instead, they are just like you and me in almost every way. When they saw people in need of help, they took action.
The United States has a long history of protesting inequality. On Aug. 18, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. The struggle to pass that amendment was lengthy and involved mass protests, arrests, and fervent opposition by all levels of government, all similar to what we are seeing now. Mass protests have fueled many of the most important changes in our country’s history dating all the way back to the founding of our great nation and they will continue to be an avenue for change.
Reschenthaler has been a vocal advocate for President Trump, who has used scenes from the protests in Portland in his reelection campaign commercials in Pennsylvania and other states. The ads claim that these are scenes from “Joe Biden’s America.” Unfortunately, these are actual scenes from Trump’s America, and he cannot pass the blame on to his political foes. Our president is deliberately fomenting this violence as he believes it will make him appear to be standing for law and order. However, this is just showing him to be weak in a time of crisis. One of the most important traits in a president, or any elected official for that matter, is the ability to accept responsibility for their mistakes and the mistakes of others in their charge. Trump does not have this ability and lacks the executive courage to shoulder the blame. We have all worked for a manager who lacks the conviction to take ownership of bad situations. Nobody wants to work for these kinds of bosses. It is extremely unfortunate that Trump is the exact embodiment of the poor manager who none of us wants to work for.
Ben Bright is chairman of the Washington County Democratic Committee.