Standoff in Portland as chaos envelopes parts of the city

Standoff in Portland as chaos envelopes parts of the city
PORTLAND, Ore. — Even after tear gas choked downtown Portland in the early hours of Tuesday morning, Riots Ribs kept the food coming.

A volunteer making food, who has been camped outside the Multnomah County Justice Center since demonstrations against police brutality began more than 50 days ago, slathered barbecue sauce on the meat cooking just a few yards from where federal forces were trying to push back protesters.

Despite the surrounding chaos, the cooks continued to work.

Still cooking. Still being tear gassed. Still have broken ribs. Still feeding people 24/7. Still at SW Salmon and 3rd Ave. Still need your help. Still need donations.

Much love to you ❤️🔥

— RIOT RIBS 🔥 (@riotribs) July 21, 2020

Over the weekend one of Riots Ribs’ cooks, Rico Rivera, was shot point-blank in the chest with a tear gas canister. He had been standing in a crosswalk near the Justice Center during broad daylight when police issued an abrupt order for the crowd to disperse. Rivera was standing near a patrol SUV when he was shot, he said.

“I wasn’t even a foot away from them,” Rivera said. “First he aimed at my head and then he aimed at my chest.”

He suffered two broken ribs and a bruised lung.

“I was just astounded,” Rivera said.

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Rico Rivera was hit with a CS gas projectile a few days ago at the Portland protests. He’s been out here every day and night for more than a month with no intention of leaving. “This is where I live now,” he says @NBCNews pic.twitter.com/HTLZ3J4OrR

— Alicia Victoria Lozano (@aliciavlozano) July 21, 2020

For nearly two months, protesters have gathered in the park to march against the police-involved killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Breonna Taylor in Louisville and others like them. Recently, demonstrations have become increasingly heated after federal forces arrived without the consent of local leaders.

The standoff between law enforcement and protesters in the streets of downtown Portland has caused what some legal experts say could be a constitutional crisis. In the crosshairs are residents trying to assert more control over the city’s police department while being somewhat ambivalent about the violence that erupts every night like clockwork.

“What’s happening here is, we have dozens, if not hundreds of federal troops descending upon our city. And what they’re doing is, they are sharply escalating the situation,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said over the weekend.

A small section of downtown Portland has been transformed into a kind of pop-up city surrounding the Justice Center and the federal courthouse. In a park across the street, tents have sprung up to house a makeshift pharmacy filled with emergency kits, a pantry where people can get free snacks and water, a second-hand clothing store and free outdoor catering now known as Riot Ribs.

Portland protesters have learned to anticipate the ebb and flow of violence near the Justice Center. Peaceful demonstrations make up the majority of what is seen there throughout the day and early parts of the night. Graffiti dots the outside of both the federal and county courthouses. Signs read “Black Lives Matter” and “Feds Go Home.” Sometimes music blares from loudspeakers or cars, and sometimes people dance in a drum circle.

Marches around the Justice Center begin shortly after nightfall. Recently they have been led by an older generation of parents who form a barrier between protesters and law enforcement. The “Wall of Moms” and PDXDadPod link arms and shout things like “Feds stay clear, moms are here!”

Cheers broke out when the parent groups arrived at Monday night’s demonstrations. Some of the moms danced while they marched as others squeezed small squeak toys in the shape of tiny pink pigs. Later, the moms asked protesters to light up their phones as the crowd sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.”

Mother of two Leslie Yeargers attended her first protest Monday night after seeing coverage of armed federal forces using tear gas against demonstrators. She was “horrified” by the violence and worried about the world her children, both in their early 20s, will inherit as civil unrest lingers.

“What really crossed the line for me was when the feds started picking people off the street,” she said. “That is a totalitarian and authoritarian tactic, and I don’t want it in my city and I want them gone.”

Equipped with goggles and a face mask, Yeargers said she was nervous about attending Monday’s demonstration. She doesn’t like seeing downtown Portland surrounded by burning trash cans and graffiti, but she likes seeing her neighbors hit with tear gas even less.

“My kids want a better world. They want a world of peace and justice where they feel safe,” she said. “Their futures right now are very precarious.”

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