Ore. pro­test­ers come from all walks

Anal­y­sis: Those de­tained don’t fit Trump’s mold

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Suman Naishadham and Jake Bleiberg

Sheena McFer­ran was two rows be­hind a line of po­lice at a protest in Port­land, Ore­gon, when she saw of­fi­cers pep­per-spray­ing a Black man.

“I said, ‘Hell no,’ so I pulled his back­pack back re­ally hard and stepped into the space he was in,” said McFer­ran, a 34-year-old man­ager for the Sierra Club who’s white.

Ed­ward Sch­inz­ing, 32, was just around the cor­ner on an­other night. Pros­e­cu­tors say he and 30 oth­ers broke into a build­ing with a jail and court­rooms, de­stroyed an of­fice and set it ablaze.

Both were ar­rested. Their dis­parate cir­cum­stances high­light what The As­so­ci­ated Press found in an anal­y­sis of more than 200 ar­rests: even those ac­cused of break­ing the law dur­ing the lib­eral city’s nightly ral­lies don’t neatly fit into Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s de­pic­tion of pro­test­ers as “an­ar­chists and ag­i­ta­tors.”

A re­view of court doc­u­ments, so­cial me­dia posts and other pub­lic records from peo­ple ar­rested by fed­eral and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties since mid-June re­veals a group whose mo­tives are as var­ied as the acts lead­ing to their ar­rests.

They’re Black Lives Mat­ter ac­tivists who have been in the streets since George Floyd died at the hands of Min­ne­ap­o­lis po­lice in May, groups of self-pro­claimed par­ents us­ing leaf blow­ers to drive away tear gas and black-clad provo­ca­teurs tak­ing ad­van­tage of the nightly chaos that’s gripped down­town Port­land for over two months and led Trump to de­ploy fed­eral agents in early July.

The AP found 95% of those ar­rested by po­lice and fed­eral agents were lo­cal. The vast ma­jor­ity have no crim­i­nal record in Ore­gon. Many ap­pear to be col­lege stu­dents. Their av­er­age age was 28, court records show.

They’re mostly charged with mis­de­meanors like fail­ing to com­ply with a law­ful or­der, while some face felonies like ar­son and as­sault on an of­fi­cer. Most peo­ple have been re­leased, and some have been ar­rested more than once for sim­i­lar of­fenses.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment agreed this week to draw down the num­ber of agents whose pres­ence has swelled the ranks of the protests. Fed­eral forces have drawn more black-clad peo­ple ac­cused of set­ting fires or as­sault­ing of­fi­cers but also mil­i­tary vet­er­ans seek­ing to lower ten­sions and a self­ti­tled “Wall of Moms.”

“They have acted as an oc­cu­py­ing force & brought vi­o­lence,” Ore­gon Gov. Kate Brown tweeted of the U.S. of­fi­cers.

Soon be­fore the an­nounce­ment, Trump in­sisted agents wouldn’t leave un­til lo­cal au­thor­i­ties “se­cured their city.” He’s spent weeks run­ning Port­land through the po­lit­i­cal play­book he used dur­ing the ini­tial wave of na­tion­wide demon­stra­tions af­ter Floyd’s death: paint­ing those on the streets as an­ar­chists and seek­ing to tie them to Demo­cratic ri­val Joe Bi­den.

The U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment and Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cials have of­ten high­lighted de­struc­tive cases like Sch­inz­ing’s in their por­trayal of pro­test­ers. The nightly un­rest of­ten fol­lows a script: au­thor­i­ties de­clare a riot, send­ing hun­dreds of peace­ful pro­test­ers home as smaller groups of demon­stra­tors tar­get the U.S. court­house with bricks, laser point­ers and fire­works. Fed­eral agents re­spond with tear gas, stun grenades and ar­rests.

But AP’s anal­y­sis shows many of those ar­rested do not fit the car­i­ca­ture of an an­ar­chist bent on de­struc­tion.

Mo­ments be­fore her ar­rest, po­lice threw McFer­ran, the Sierra Club man­ager, to the ground, yank­ing off her mask and bind­ing her wrists in zip ties. She was re­leased af­ter eight hours in jail and faces charges of dis­or­derly con­duct and in­ter­fer­ing with po­lice.

McFer­ran, who lives in Seat­tle, said she started protest­ing in her city and in Port­land al­most nightly af­ter re­al­iz­ing she could do more in the fight for racial jus­tice. Un­til Floyd’s killing, McFer­ran says she was a “tourist pro­tester.”

“I re­al­ized I need to be par­tic­i­pat­ing in this le­git­i­mately every day,” she said. “I need to do this work.”

McFer­ran said she and her boyfriend, a for­mer Army medic, pro­vide se­cu­rity ser­vices and try to act as a “shield” be­tween pro­test­ers of color and law en­force­ment.

Some charged with more se­ri­ous of­fenses, such as as­sault­ing of­fi­cers and de­stroy­ing prop­erty, have crim­i­nal his­to­ries. Most are white, ac­cord­ing to court records.

Sch­inz­ing, who was pho­tographed burn­ing pa­pers in­side the county Jus­tice Cen­ter, was or­dered de­tained this week by a fed­eral judge. He faces a felony ar­son charge, on top of un­re­lated ha­rass­ment and as­sault charges from Fe­bru­ary, court records show. His court-ap­pointed at­tor­ney de­clined to com­ment.

Act­ing Home­land Se­cu­rity Chief Chad Wolf said fed­eral agents have made 94 ar­rests in Port­land since July 4.

“Our fed­eral of­fi­cers have faced as­saults with Molo­tov cock­tails, mor­tar-style, com­mer­cial-grade fire­works, ac­cel­er­ants, IEDs and other vi­o­lent weapons,” Wolf said at a news con­fer­ence about the with­drawal of fed­eral agents.

Lisa Hay, Ore­gon’s fed­eral pub­lic de­fender, said her of­fice is rep­re­sent­ing “moth­ers, col­lege stu­dents, lawyers” and oth­ers from across the state and coun­try.

“It should con­cern ev­ery­one that there were ar­rests by un­marked po­lice of­fi­cers of Ore­go­ni­ans who were ask­ing what’s go­ing on and weren’t be­ing given any an­swers,” Hay said.

The state sued over those al­le­ga­tions, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion de­nies, but a judge found the state did not have stand­ing to win an im­me­di­ate court or­der re­strain­ing the fed­eral agents.

Some Black ac­tivists say the po­lit­i­cal fight dis­tracts from com­bat­ing racist polic­ing

Mac Smiff, a 39-year-old fa­ther and an­a­lyst for a util­ity com­pany, was ar­rested on June 6 and charged with in­ter­fer­ing with a peace of­fi­cer. He’s con­fi­dent the charge will be dis­missed, say­ing he got caught up as po­lice swept through down­town af­ter a protest.

A vet­eran ac­tivist, Smiff took to the streets af­ter see­ing a prom­i­nent politi­cian talk­ing about re­duc­ing fund­ing for po­lice on TV. He thought the wave of ral­lies fol­low­ing Floyd’s death seemed dif­fer­ent, more fo­cused, but said Trump de­rid­ing pro­test­ers as vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists is a fa­mil­iar strat­egy.

“If you make the blame in­dis­crim­i­nate, then you can make the re­sponse in­dis­crim­i­nate. That’s just a tac­tic to jus­tify us­ing es­ca­lat­ing force and chem­i­cal weapons against us,” Smiff said. “I own my house. I’m a pro­fes­sional hu­man be­ing. I’m out here fight­ing against cor­rup­tion and po­lice bru­tal­ity. And the re­sponse is I’m a ter­ror­ist? That’s laugh­able at best.”

He wel­comed the news that the fed­eral pres­ence in Port­land would be wind­ing down, say­ing the agents were a “dis­trac­tion.”

“That was a side mis­sion,” he said. “We came out here to de­fund the po­lice.”

MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP

Fed­eral of­fi­cers ar­rest a demon­stra­tor dur­ing a protest Wed­nes­day at the fed­eral court­house in Port­land, Ore­gon.

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