PORTLAND, ORE. – Early Sunday morning, after warnings from the Mayor’s Office and the Portland Police Bureau, 25 protesters associated with Occupy Portland were arrested for breaking a park curfew at Jamison Square during the course of a peaceful protest. Hundreds of supporters watched as their friends and fellow protesters were arrested, one by one, by the Portland Police.
Occupy Portland decided on Monday, October 24th, to go to Jamison Square to stand in solidarity with other protesters around the world who have also been voicing their concerns, and continue protesting the growing inequity in our society. Occupy Portland wanted to reach out to communities to cultivate discussion and involvement with the people of our city, and chose the Pearl for its mixture of economic situations and close proximity.
Later during the week, the Mayor’s Office released a statement that any protesters in Jamison Square after midnight, when the park closes according to city ordinance, would be arrested in accordance with established practices. Occupy Portland did not decide to go to Jamison to force a confrontation with the police, but we believe that our right to assemble and our right to free speech was a higher law than any ordinances the city could pass. In at least one case, public workers agreed.
One protester reported that during their arrest, they were told to plead “not guilty” and the charge would be dismissed. The reason? If the case were to go to the Oregon Supreme Court, it was likely that the city ordinance would be overturned on Constitutional grounds.
“I’ve been protesting because we shouldn’t be afraid of our government,” Nadia Greene said. “We shouldn’t be afraid of the police who exist to protect us.”
Drawing attention to the hypocrisy of how we enforce our laws was one of the messages many of the arrestees shared. Others were interested in the human aspect.
“I think we really accomplished community awareness which caused the discussion to happen,” Brad Beach said.
But the protesters and officers weren’t all business. “When they started chanting ‘You’re sexy, you’re cute, take off the riot suit’, the protesters and officers were chuckling.”
“I want to do this every night,” Jacob Clary said. “I want to encourage the public discussion which was a result of this sit-in. I don’t want to keep this kind of action just to the Pearl, I want to be in every sector of the city.”
While the interaction was overall very professional and lacked the air of police brutality we have seen in places like Oakland, some arrestees did report rough behavior.
“I was kept in a squad car for four hours,” Cameron Whitten told supporters. “When I was remaining silent they weren’t very friendly. They knew who I was, I heard them talking about me. I got slapped a few times, and had a car door shut against my head twice.
“As soon as I complied and told them my name though, they were suddenly very nice.”
Supporters watching from the sidewalks also reported a mostly friendly interaction.
“Some of the officers were a little enthusiastic, but overall it was peaceful and professional,” Jordan LeDoux commented after. “I’m just disappointed in their priorities. While they were standing there I pointed out a drunk driver going the wrong way down a one-way street right near the park. ‘That’s dangerous,’ I said. I pointed back to the protesters being arrested. ‘That’s not.’”
Protesters used the arrests as an opportunity to start conversations with people locally. Some were quite productive, while others didn’t seem to get it.
“Things aren’t going to change in your lifetime,” one Park’s Department employee who declined to give his name told protesters. “So this is just a waste of time. We had slavery for over 400 years. Do you think this will really change anything?”
But in the end, protesters felt that an important point had been made.
“It’s not about this park, it’s about making a stand,” Imre Ilyes responded. “It’s time for us as people to take back control of our government. The old channels haven’t been effective, so this is where it starts, with people sitting down and being arrested for the right to come together and find solutions.”
“I believe that the First Amendment is first for a reason,” Jordan said. “And it doesn’t end because a city ordinance says it does. There was nothing unlawful about this protest, there is something unlawful about our system.”
NOTE: After the protesters sitting were arrested, remaining supporters flooded the square and continued to protest until the park re-opened at 5AM with no further arrests.