49 days of protesting the police murder of George Floyd as well as countless other Black individuals, including 17-year old Quanice Hayes, Keaton Otis, Terrell Johnson, Andre Gladen, Kendra James, Patrick Kimmons by the Portland Police, has resulted in senseless targeting and violence from the neo-fascist regime in the white house. The world watches as a camouflaged federal officer shoots an innocent man holding a boombox over his head while standing across from a graffitied courthouse. Graffiti which is listed in a federal document released today, listing those responsible as “violent anarchists”
As federal troops mobilized in the streets of Portland, July 16th, 2020, the Portland Police Bureau (PPB) gleefully forwarded photos on Twitter of their own work earlier that morning. They had successfully dismantled and arrested the operators of “Riot Ribs,” the free food collective that was operating outside the Federal Courthouse. Riot Ribs had been feeding protestors and houseless people 24 hours a day and was financed entirely by donations. The photos of their sweep and arrest are a testament to what modern policing looks like in the Trump era. In the photos of “evidence” of this “illegal occupation” of the park can be seen a dozen coolers, a grill, a makeshift kitchen, several tents, and a trash bag full of sleeping bags. You can see the remnants of a small community. No weapons, just food. This is what the police photographed as evidence of a threat.
Riot Ribs has been run largely by houseless people who have now lost their sleeping bags and tents. Yet they are back at it again. Last night, July 16th, less than 20 hours after being arrested and having their possessions stolen by the police, Riot Ribs returned to continue feeding the community of protesters.
It is obvious why the Portland Police and the Department of Homeland Security are threatened by direct action like Riot Ribs. Projects focused on community care do what the liberals of our city could never do: provide food to those most in need, and enable them to challenge the system. Just as the FBI was threatened by the Black Panthers’ free breakfast programs, our authoritarian state cannot allow for Riot Ribs or any alternative models of community care. The existence of Riot Ribs speaks too clearly to the injustices of our capitalist state. We know the capitalist state cannot save us, because it is what brought us to this point. We the people must care for each other: through community food programs like Riot Ribs or through jail support and bail funds. These symbiotic acts of care for one another stand in stark relief to the millions and billions poured by our liberal governments into financing the police, which is in turn used to brutalize and repress.
To be clear: Federal agents have been cooperating with the Portland Police for roughly two weeks. Yet the brutality of the PPB against our city, in this uprising, has been going for 49 days. The police, our sacred purveyors of harm, have been built on a culture of aggression and authority. They are revered by the middle and upper class for policing the lower classes to preserve a crumbling oligarchy. The only people in our society that we allow to murder, the cops, are the ones we have made responsible for managing all of the problems in our society. When protesters broke windows downtown on May 29, Wheeler scolded the city with an all-caps ENOUGH. But when human lives were threatened by his officers’ use of force — when legal observers were targeted or when bystanders were pulled from their cars into the gas — Wheeler stood by. Wheeler’s police exist to serve capitalists and protect property, and the cost is our safety. The PPB has had its budget increased every year for a decade, up until the events of this uprising. Ted Wheeler ran for mayor to end the militarization of the Portland Police. He has done nothing to end it. And now we see a tank prepared to roll down the streets of our city.
The Portland Police and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are now collaborating to suppress the speech and actions of the people of Portland, to make an example of Portland to our cruel and monomaniacal President. Our feckless liberal mayor uses one hand to offer up mealy mouthed objections to “violence” on twitter, while with the other he waves his officers on to livestream protestors’ faces so that Federal Officers can target them with arrest. He has allowed DHS to brutalize the residents of Portland. He has overseen a 49-day counter-insurgency program of his own, operated by the unaccountable Portland Police Bureau, financed by tax dollars, and supported politically by the corporate business alliances in this city. Ted Wheeler can claim that it is the Feds that have brought violence to our city, while he is the police commissioner and has the blood of brutalized protesters on his hands.
Now is not the time to see the challenges in front of us as too grave or too difficult. Now is the time to find courage.
It is easy for Kate Brown and Ted Wheeler to point the finger at the Feds or at Donald Trump, as the aggressors here. They believe that they have done all they can to reform the police (by holding countless committees and making many oversight bodies that never come close to changing the police). Kate Brown and Ted Wheeler will continue to assert that their own actions had nothing to do with this current situation. But their willingness to protect property and capital, coupled with their unwillingness to imagine a system sustained by care rather than harm, by community mutual support rather than violent repression, is what has brought us to this place. Kate Brown could harness the National Guard to protect protesters, or motivate the legislature to neuter police power in our state. But she will not do these things. Ted Wheeler could attempt to order the Portland Police to stop cooperating with the Feds, and to begin restoring our society rather than brutalize our people. But he will not do that either.
Who can make a change? Our city council and our county commissioners and our state legislature and our governor can defund the police. They have the power to write law, to end cop unions, to defund. But when Black lives are murdered by police, they are the ones proposing paltry reforms. They are the ones ignoring the federal government’s creeping authoritarianism. They are the ones maintaining the integrity of the system. They are the ones blaming Trump, and not the entire imperialist system which has forever used violence to exploit and repress. Donald Trump is using all the weapons and tools and armies made available to him by the United States. That federally trained soldiers accustomed to policing political revolt or implementing regime change in foreign countries are now policing the people of the imperial core is surprising only to a liberal. Immigrant and refugee communities in our city can clearly see that what we have wrought in other countries is now becoming the standard operating procedure inside this country as well.
What must be done? Now is not the time to see the challenges in front of us as too grave or too difficult. Now is the time to find courage. There are many communities of care that operate in our city, supporting the movement, fighting for change. Snack Bloc, the GDC Bail Fund, Free Lunch Collective, the local Witches, Riot Ribs, Portland People’s Outreach Project, PDX Jail Support, and our own Mutual Aid Fund, all of these are opportunities for you to join in caring for this movement. Or perhaps there is a need somewhere else, and you and your friends and neighbors can build it yourselves. Now is the time to build new structures that make care central to the work of building a new world.
Perhaps you are already a member of an organization that could help in this fight. You are a member of a collective, a union, a co-op. Find the ways to use your power to defend those who need it. Stand up for Black Lives. Fight for the better world you yearn for. This will only be won if we continue to fight, and learn from every moment how to fight better, more justly, listening to the most marginalized among us. When the people stand united, they can never be defeated.