June 7, 2020
We went out of the county for a Friday night date. The next county over is in Phase 1, which means you can have drink in the radius others doing the same. It was an odd break from COVID and the daily anti-racism demonstrations reminding us how racist America is in 2020. So it seemed like an obvious date night activity to head back into downtown Portland to see how “Little Beirut” was gearing up for the weekend.
The short version of the story is we found ourselves among a few thousand protestors outside the Justice Center, which had become a focal point of the protests against police brutality in the Rose City. The parks in front of the Justice Center are circled by City Hall, federal and county courthouses, and were the scene of a prolonged occupation during the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.
As I’m fond of explaining to the media, protests are complex phenomena with numerous types of participants, from earnest aggrieved citizens to hooligans, from career activists to agent provocateurs. And that’s just one side of the fence. So we wandered around black-clad white protestors with Black Live Matters signs and African-American teenagers, chanting “Fuck Trump!” The police, in their stormtrooper riot gear, seemed to hold the line on the other side of the fence, occasionally dodging a water bottle hurled from the crowd. We took pictures and made note of clever signs.
Then the whole thing went sideways. Concussive flash-bangs and tear gas hit the crowd. I wanted to film it but was unprepared for how the tear gas would choke me. I was blind and fell behind Andrea as we ran from the park. Fortunately, some seasoned protesters poured milk into my eyes so I could see my way out. After some marching around, some of the protest leaders (well, they had megaphones) encouraged protesters to head east, away from the hot zone where clashes with police seemed inevitable. Our car was in the other direction, so we headed back towards the Justice Center, and found a spot in front of City Hall to watch the show.
Tear gas was banned in warfare by the Geneva Convention in 1925 but it seems to still be A-OK in Portland 95 years later. We wanted to witness this moment in history and see which way it went, even if it was in a haze of fog. I thought about friends who were cops and friends who were antifa locked in this moment of change.
Just after midnight, the police made their move on the protestors, driving us through the rose bushes at City Hall and over a wall. About two blocks away, on the corner of 5th and Madison, we stopped to watch truck-fulls of militarized police deploy to launch noxious CS gas into the streets of Portlandia. I was filming and an officer, who might have been a county sheriff, pointed me out to another officer, and then he launched a gas grenade at me, my reward for flashing a peace sign. I was filming the whole time so the recording got both Andrea and I on the ground, gasping for breath. (Video below.) Fortunately, two anarchist angels were there to rescue us. From that point I just wanted to go to the babysitter and pick up our daughter.
After a very long shower (and a desire to burn our clothes), I laid awake wondering how this thing ends. Tonight will be the tenth night of consecutive protests in Portland, with surely more tear gas. Solidarity marches have been happening all over the world. There was an anti-racism march over my beloved Charles Bridge in Prague yesterday, and in Bristol, England, protesters pulled down a statue of a 17th century slave owner and dumped him in the bay. It feels like 2020, is going to make 1968 look like 1954. We are at a tipping point. But tipping to where? 1968 gave us President Richard Nixon.
The “Defund the Police!” chant is half right. We must defund the militarized police and fund an alternative model of policing. We need police. There will always be rapists and murderers who need to be caught (by detectives with dry senses of humor). But we also need social workers to address the root causes of crime before there are crime victims. There are models from around the world. British Bobbies still don’t carry guns, but can get them if they need them. The police department in Camden, New Jersey rebuilt its entire department and not only saw a 95% drop in excessive force complaints but saw a steep decline in murders. It can be done. It is being done.
The current policing model isn’t broken. It was built wrong. Detroit, Los Angeles, Ferguson, Minneapolis, have all told us the same thing. You can tweak the system and get slight changes in outcomes, but its the system that’s the problem. You can wave the banner of “community policing,” but if it’s the same armed officer harassing the “usual suspects,” nothing has changed. Our current form of policing is rooted in medieval notions of control. The root of the term “sheriff” is in the English shire reeve from a thousand years ago. Maybe it’s time to give it the old heave ho, like those folks in Bristol did to that statue yesterday.
Yeah, we need to talk about racism in America. We really need to talk about it. But we also need to talk about remaking how we police ourselves.
Best headline ever:
6 thoughts on “It took getting gassed by the police to get it about policing”
Evidence based practices. If Camden, NJ, reduced excessive force complaints and murders, then perhaps they could be the model for PD’s around the country. Can we at least start there?
I’m sorry to hear about what happened to you. Take it from someone who’s been blown up and shot, I’d much rather have been tear gassed. That aside, it is heartbreaking the direction our country and the world is going. However, as things go like this, I can’t help but not look to the bible for my answers.
The times we are living in are signs of end times prophecy. With there being talks about wanting to defund and even dismantle police departments (as this was voted on over the weekend in Minneapolis), this takes away law and order. Also, this causes lawlessness. Matthew 24 is a key when it comes to end times prophecy. When it comes to lawlessness, Matthew 24:14 ‘And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.’ It most certainly feels like this is the case. 2 Thessalonians 2:14 ‘For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way.’ Why are these verses important? The rest of the world is rising against the U.S. as we speak. You may think that’s great. In Matthew 24:7 says ‘For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.’ Doesn’t it feel like this is happening?
In Romans 13:1-7 ‘Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. So anyone who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will honor you. The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience. Pay your taxes, too, for these same reasons. For government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and government fees to those who collect them, and give respect and honor to those who are in authority.’ This shows that the bible tells us to respect authority.
In terms of end times prophecy, Luke 21:29-33 ‘Then He spoke to them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.’ The fig tree is Israel. Israel has really blossomed since it became a nation again on May 14, 1948. Amos 9:14-15 ‘I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God.’ Ezekiel 37:12 ‘Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.’ Ezekiel 39:26-29 ”When I bring them home from the lands of their enemies, I will display my holiness among them for all the nations to see. They will accept responsibility for their past shame and unfaithfulness after they come home to live in peace in their own land, with no one to bother them. Then my people will know that I am the Lord their God, because I sent them away to exile and brought them home again. I will leave none of my people behind. And I will never again turn my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit upon the people of Israel. I, the Sovereign Lord , have spoken!”
When Israel became a state, all biblical prophecy really started to unfold. The verses I have shown you are reasons why I encourage you to seek Jesus. I’m not saying racism isn’t bad because it is. Jesus tells us in Mark 12:31 ‘The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”’ We do this by treating everyone equally. It’s not about saying I’m a racist but I’m working on it or criticizing others. It’s about showing love towards others like how Jesus would. When the rapture happens, it would be heartbreaking if you were left behind. Romans 10:9-10 ‘If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.’ I encourage you to say that prayer of confession.