June 2, 6:15 p.m.
“Nah, nah, nah — I don’t wanna hear any of that! We don’t like that!”
We had already marched from Pioneer Courthouse Square up and across the Burnside Bridge to join up with another protest happening at Washington High School; marchers from downtown Portland filtered into the park slowly where volunteers and other protestors gathered to hand out and create signs as well as give protestors food and dole out supplies such as period care and first aid items.
Milling around for 15 minutes or so in the large dirt lot next to the school, I kept reminding myself to take swigs of my water — marching in peak heat, dressed head-to-toe in black meant I should nearly drown myself in water, right? Not to mention the fact that — due to the COVID-19 pandemic and also protestors’ mounting desire to remain relatively unidentifiable — most people in the crowd were wearing face masks, which means we took in an excess amount of carbon dioxide as we huffed and puffed our way through town in the baking sun.
At the direction of speakers I couldn’t see or really hear very well, the thousands-strong throng of people began filing back into the streets heading northwest, in the direction of the Burnside Bridge.
Our chant rang through the streets of Portland loud and clear — we were upset. We were angry. We were scared. For the second time that day — probably the second time in two hours, actually — we were heading onto the bridge to lie down for nine minutes in honor of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man that was killed in police custody on May 25 when Derek Chauvin, an officer of the Minneapolis Police Department, kneeled on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as he was detaining him.
As a journalist, watching the state of the world at all times — now more than ever — I was scared. As a woman, I was scared. As a white-passing Hispanic woman, I was scared — and in my fear I realized that this movement is about the fact that — as scared as I felt — other people were even more afraid than I was and they were that afraid for their lives every day. I became a journalist to share these moments and I knew I could offer my voice. I am a white-passing woman and I wanted to offer my protection and assistance to whoever needed it. I knew that — very simply put — we were all there because of the colors of our skin. Because our state, country and world history are built off the oppression, manipulation and degradation of people because of the color of their skin, and that the people of the world were no longer going to allow the oppressors to get away with their crimes against our families with our money in their pockets. We are making them hear us — we continue screaming into the void, but now, we’re doing it together.
Previously, marchers had been able to lie fully on their stomachs with their arms behind their backs, as they chanted “I can’t breathe,” as Floyd had warned Chauvin repeatedly in the minutes leading up to his death. Coming back over the bridge for the second time, many protestors including myself were curled up in weird egg-like positions — there was simply not enough room to accommodate the estimated 10,000 protestors, so we packed in against each other instead and curled into ourselves. I looked to my right, locking eyes with my husband as we lay in the sun near the middle of the bridge; all I could do was lie there next to him and will myself not to cry.
“I haven’t seen any police since we came over the bridge, have you?” my husband asked.
“No, I haven’t. It scares me.”
Where were they? Are we walking back, straight into a trap?
It wasn’t until I found myself at the apex of a bridge, looking as far as I possibly could down the street both in front of me and behind me that I realized how small I was, how big our world is, or how truly large our impact was. It would be okay. Even if we were heading directly into the beast’s gaping maw and even if it meant we could fall victim to their gnashing teeth, we were ready to face it head-on.
Moving slowly west on Burnside, the march inched its way toward the square. At one such stop I found myself toward the extreme right edge of the group, centered in the middle of the intersection in front of a decorative archway leading into Chinatown; a honking black truck approached the crowd and stopped — most of us assumed the honking he did was an act of solidarity (which we’d enjoyed from many traffic-jammed onlookers, some of which even got onto the top of their vehicles to chant with us or record our marching.)
A fraction of a second later we found ourselves diving out of the way of a man that was trying to kill us. I stood in shock for yet another fraction of a second.
Not only had that man just tried to harm, maim and kill us, but he had driven into oncoming traffic on a one-way street to do it. Protestors scrambled and tugged each other back to standing as a handful of men chased the truck down the street faster than I have ever seen a human body travel.
“IS ANYONE HURT?”
“FUCK THAT GUY!”
We were all fine — how the hell did that happen?
Onward we traveled down Burnside to the square — 10,000 people spread roughly a block out in every from the center of the gathering, kneeling and sitting in the streets to listen to speakers.
Now approaching 9 p.m. as we listened to fringe groups of people begin to cause problems, our group decided to head back east toward the bridges to catch an Uber back to our car. Due to bus lines, MAX train lines and streetcar lines shutting off service to downtown Portland — reportedly due to “safety concerns” — many protestors became effectively trapped downtown as violence began to erupt.
Hopping in our Uber, notifications flooded my phone that police had begun gassing protestors. Next, a fire had been set in a trash can. Then, — wait. Cops are tagging cars so they can identify and arrest protestors at a later date? And they’re deploying flashbangs? Pepper balls and rubber bullets? It all happened so quickly. Just like the truck.
“Oh my God, thank you so much, Michael.” I said leaving the Uber. “Have a great night and please stay safe.”
“You’re very welcome! Thank you!”
My car was right there, waiting for me. My husband, friends and I slowly packed in; short of driving instructions we didn’t speak. Our friends slept in the back while my husband read more news stories on his phone. I drove us down the almost completely-deserted I-205 toward the house in the still darkness.
At home, in bed, I was crushed. Scrolling through PDX-centric Instagram and Twitter hashtags I saw anger, fire, tear gas, crying, violence, and sadness — Portland, like many other cities in the world, was in absolute chaos. We had escaped just in time. Stinging, hot tears welled in my crusty, dusty eyes. Images of vomit-stained sidewalks from people that had been hit by the clouds of gas populated my feed.
“We were peaceful!” I thought to myself. “We were peaceful and they decided to gas everyone!”