What to Know About Portland's Crackdown on Protesters and How You Can Help

Chelsey Sanchez
·9 min read
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images
Photo credit: Anadolu Agency - Getty Images

From Seventeen

Since the police killing of George Floyd at the end of May, the people of Portland, Oregon have taken to the streets. For more than 50 consecutive nights, demonstrators have protested police brutality, racism, and insidious anti-Blackness. Now, in a purported attempt to quell social unrest, the Trump administration is making an example of the city.

What's happening?

Militarized federal agents decked out in camouflage and commanding unmarked vans have been deployed to Portland, a move that local leaders and protesters say is exacerbating already tense circumstances. The introduction of a heavily armed force has also escalated confrontations between officers and protesters.

NPR reported that the officers deployed come from the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Border Patrol Tactical Unit, and are intended to protect federal property. The New York Times additionally found that the units deployed are not specialized in nor have they been trained in riot control or mass demonstrations.

Online, multiple anecdotes accompanied by filmed footage show officers grabbing individuals off the streets, ushering them into unmarked vehicles, and driving off—all without identifying themselves or the reason for the individual's detainment.

Trump has since defended his decision to deploy armed units to confront Portland protesters, tweeting on Sunday, "We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it. Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!"

The move also comes as recent polls show Trump trailing Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, in support with voters, leading many to believe Trump is casting the episode as an attempt to distinguish himself as the law-and-order candidate.

Meanwhile, Oregon's Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Marshals Service, the United States Customs and Border Protection, and the Federal Protective Service.

"We have an already heightened situation. It's already tense," Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler told NPR over the weekend. "But after nearly five weeks of demonstrations, we are starting to see that small handful of people who were engaged in criminal activity—it was dissipating. It was calming down. We believed a week ago it would be over by this weekend. But what happened instead is the feds stepped in with a very heavy-handed approach, and it blew the lid off the whole thing."

Photo credit: Mason Trinca - Getty Images
Photo credit: Mason Trinca - Getty Images

Will the crackdown spread to other cities?

Portland is not the only metropolitan area witnessing daily insurrections in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many have begun to see the deployment of federal officers in Portland as the testing ground for increased enforcement in other major cities and a harbinger of more state-sanctioned violence to come.

"I'm going to do something—that, I can tell you," Trump recently told reporters in the Oval Office, per the Times. "Because we're not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these—Oakland is a mess. We're not going to let this happen in our country. All run by liberal Democrats."

The Chicago Tribune recently reported that protesters in Chicago may soon see around 150 federal agents patrolling the streets. Sources told the outlet that agents from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will assist other federal law enforcement and Chicago police in "crime-fighting efforts."

"What is happening now in Portland should concern everyone in the United States," said Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, in a statement. "Usually when we see people in unmarked cars forcibly grab someone off the street we call it kidnapping. The actions of the militarized federal officers are flat-out unconstitutional and will not go unanswered."

Photo credit: Nathan Howard - Getty Images
Photo credit: Nathan Howard - Getty Images

Who are the protesting mothers?

Over the weekend, hundreds of mothers materialized in what they called a "Wall of Moms" at a Portland protest, forming an emotionally poignant contrast to the militarized forces that confronted them.

Donning yellow and linking arms, the moms attempted to create a human barrier in order to protect Portland protesters against the armed federal units. "As most of you have read and seen on the news, protestors are being hurt (without cause). And as of late, protestors are being stripped of their rights by being placed in unmarked cars by unidentifiable law enforcement," the Facebook event read. "We moms are often underestimated. But we're stronger than we're given credit for."

Videos show the federal officers firing what appears to be pepper balls and launching projectiles toward the group. And by the end of the night, many of the moms were reportedly teargassed.

Local outlet KOIN 6 News reported that a group of dads, distinguished by wearing the color orange, is set to join the moms.

The Wall of Moms has since created Instagram and Twitter accounts to disseminate information for those looking to participate or support them in upcoming actions.

What can I do to help?

Below, a few ways to help those in Portland.


  • The Portland General Defense Committee's GoFundMe supports those arrested by using donations "to pay for bail, legal fees and fines, lawyers, discovery, investigations, personal material support and any other financial needs that arise during the legal process." Donate Here

  • The Portland-based Black Youth Movement aims to amplify Black voices in the city, with a current focus on defunding the police and redistributing resources. Donate Here

  • Don't Shoot PDX is a Black-led, community-driven nonprofit organization. Donate Here

  • Defense Fund PDX is a jail support group whose work involves prioritizing the release of BIPOC and queer people from jail, as well as supporting those without homes. You can Venmo donations @defensefundpdx.

  • Equitable Giving Circle is a nonprofit organization that works to build economic equity among Portland's BIPOC communities. Donate Here

  • Snack Bloc PDX supports community rallies, events, vigils, and more. Donate Here

  • Portland Action Medics is a group of volunteer medics who provide first aid to those injured at direct actions or protests. You can Venmo donations @Rosehip-medics.

  • Care Not Cops is an organization working to end policing in Portland and redistribute resources according to community needs. Support Them Here

  • Riot Ribs provides free food for those attending direct actions in Portland. Donate Here

Attend a Protest

The Youth Liberation Front is calling on organizers and supporters to come out and participate in direct actions this Saturday.

"On July 25th, youth abolitionists are calling for a national and global march against the institution of policing," the statement reads. "We are demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Quanice Hayes, Patrick Kimmons, Sean Monterrosa and the thousands more taken by the hands of racist police."

If you want to participate, plug into your local organizations to find actions near you. Just remember to take measures to keep yourself and those around you safe.

View this post on Instagram

More information about Portland’s action coming soon, read more on @its.going.down, link in our bio. - “On July 25th, youth abolitionists are calling for a national and global march against the institution of policing. We are demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark, Philando Castille, Eric Garner, Quanice Hayes, Patrick Kimmons, Sean Monterrosa and the thousands more taken by the hands of racist police. Time and time again, the neo-liberal state has offered promises of "reform" with no real action ever taken. The time for discussing reform is over, we need full abolition for our communities to be safe and free from rampant police terror. We are calling on all abolitionists, youth or non youth, to coordinate mass protests on July 25th to show the world that the fire of this uprising is still burning strong, and that flames will just keep getting bigger until the police state has been dismantled once and for all. This call to action comes right after Trump has announced he will be sending the federal troops that have been occupying Portland, Oregon, all across the nation. The Federal Government has already waged war against Portland, which has been protesting everyday for 50 days straight, and now feds are going to war against protesters everywhere in an attempt to take control and snuff out the fire of this uprising. We must become more powerful than them. Form an affinity group. Coordinate an action. Get tactical. Mask up. Bring a friend. Show up. -PNW Youth Liberation Front. - @marin.ylf -@tnyouthliberationfront -@directactionalliance -@ylfmaryland -Olympia Youth Liberation Front”

A post shared by Youth Liberation Front (@pnwylf) on Jul 20, 2020 at 2:22pm PDT

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