Portland Protests

            Portland has had over 50 nights of protests regarding racial issues broadly speaking and the killing George Floy specifically.  In response to this the city has reduced it police budget by about 15 million dollars just below where it was in 2017 at $230 million dollars.  This was done in collaborative way.  At this point is there still a point to the protest activity?  I don’t think so.  In any state or city that has taken some actual steps to address police violence, let those steps be tested with say a year or so to see the results.  If there is no apparent improvement further protests might be in order – but not now.

                Will the protests stop and what if they don’t?

                I doubt they will stop.  Portland has a significant number of professional protestors and they are not going to go away.  When President Trump was elected that set off several waves of protests or riots in Portland.  There were protests even before President Trump as well:

Protests here often go on past the point of being useful, and that time has come for the latest wave in Portland.

                A protest movement it seems to me needs to have a clear objective, a change in the status quo that it seeks.  That objective should be actually achievable, and it should be clear to all – even those not of board with them.  When its objective is achieved, the disruptions of protests should stop.

                A related set of protests were those of Colin Kapernick and other players in the NFL, and they didn’t have clear and achievable objective.  In late 2016, Kapernick began not standing for the national anthem. First, he sat on the bench and then began kneeling on one knee. Here’s an early statement by Kapernick on his objective:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color, … To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

                His objective sounded good and is good.  Still, it needed more specifics on what could be done to avoid police getting away with murder.  His stated goal is close to eliminating racial injustice.  How to achieve that goal was unclear and the objective so grand that it couldn’t be achieved.

                That lack of clarity made it easy for President Trump to make the kneeling players:  ‘protesting the flag!’.   After the first year of the kneeling, pressure from the President ended the Kapernick inspired protests, and Kapernick was out of the NFL.  Personally, I find kneeling a quiet and respectful form of advocacy, that has roots in the early civil rights movement as explained here.  One success of the later George Floyd inspired protests was the NFL saying its action toward kneeling players was wrong, but notably Kapernick is still out of the NFL.

                I think that Kapernick and his like minded players might have had more success if that had a very specific ask:  continuing the reforms of the Obama administration on police violence including:  ending distributing military equipment to police, and continuing consent decrees with specific police departments to reduce police over reach.  Maybe the problem is this kind of objective just isn’t sexy enough to shout in a protest.

                Another objectives that the current protests should adopt is giving the police an upside in reform.  The budget cut may not fit with this.  Police need to be more accountable – if you shoot someone you need to think there was a significant risk to your life or that of others.  Shooting first because there was something in a person’s  hand is not enough.  This will mean more risk for police – if not being shot then in perhaps being fired or even prosecuted if you take violence against an unarmed citizen.  Doesn’t seem like much upside does it?  The one thing I don’t see anyone mentioning in discussion about police is higher salaries.  I think we have to plan on that if we want police to take more risk on behalf of those they are supposed to protect and serve.

                So aside from if the protests have achieved an objective, what that objective should be, and should they and will they stop, what to do now about them as they go on?  Here are some alternatives:

1.       Suppress the protests

2.       Suppress the violence, but not protests

3.       Do nothing

Many folks and I think the President lean toward the first choice:  suppression.

I’ve had several social media acquaintance argue for this approach to protestors:


It’s kind of shocking.  Why?  Because this video is from Venezuela.  Trump supporters advocating for the techniques of communist country is shocking.  My concern about this was dismissed thusly by a Trump supporter:

Bruce!!! This is NOT ABOUT VENEZUELA. It is about idiots destroying our cities. I don’t care where this particular video was taken, I would LOVE to see it here.

                I don’t get how the context of a video and where it is from doesn’t matter.  Would anyone argue for using the exact techniques used against protestors in Tiananmen Square? It is worth noting that Portland is hardly being destroyed.  Most damage has been in the form of graffiti and only in about a 3 or 4 block area.  Yet the President is creating a federal force to deal with protestors in much that way.

Furthermore, this is brushing aside federalism where the local authorities keep the peace. This is also creating a new federal agency of law enforcement.  Creating a new arm of law enforcement can go off track.  Many likely don’t know it, but Hitler’s SS started out as just a security detail for the dictator to be.   I don’t think pure suppression is appropriate.

                I don’t support allowing the protests to be uncontained either though.  When they destroy property, or threaten injury to the innocent or law officers, that can’t be tolerated.  We need to control violence, but free speech much continue to allowed, but protestors need to know when shut up as well.

The final effect of protests continuing is that the President will use his suppression of them as an argument for his re-election.


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