A crowd of Portland State students, faculty, and 11 PSU and community organizations rallied in the Park Blocks at noon on Monday, May 1 before joining over 1,000 May Day march organizers in downtown Portland’s Shemanski Park.
Portland’s May Day march, organized by the Portland May Day Coalition, was cancelled by the Portland Police Bureau nearly as soon as it began. Twenty-five people were arrested for disorderly conduct or riot. Some protesters contested the extent of PPB’s response.
May Day began in 1886, with the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanding better working conditions, including an eight-hour work day. In Portland, May Day 2017 drew folks whose goals included resisting the negative effects of capitalism on the working class, tenant rights in an increasingly expensive city, stopping ICE detentions and deportations, and protesting police brutality.
PSU students host “A Day Without Immigrants” rally at Park Blocks
In PSU’s pre-march rally titled “A Day Without Immigrants,” students and faculty held a banner that read, “PSU stands with students and workers of all nations.” Rally attendees formed a march at 12:40 p.m., chanting, “No one is illegal, power to the people,” on their way to Shemanski Park. PSU groups included The Graduate Employees Student Union, Portland State University Faculty Association, and the Association of African Students.
Jamie Partridge, student leader of 15NowPSU, emceed PSU’s rally. Partridge said he wanted to show solidarity with undocumented workers. “When one part of the working class is forced underground, all workers suffer,” Partridge said. “The current [presidential] administration is using racism and anti-immigrant rhetoric to divide workers and weaken us. That is why it is important to have a day to represent workers of all nations.”
Joslyn Sparling, student member of PSU’s International Socialist Student Organization, said she was marching to represent undocumented students. The recent rise in student tuition and recent ICE raids have left people “disenfranchised,” Sparling explained.
“Everyone deserves an education without fear of their security when they go to class,” Sparling said. “We need to stand up for their families who could be taken up in an ICE raid. That’s just wrong. The [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] program is only five years old, but the amount of change that would happen if it’s taken away from students is monstrous.”
Students join family-friendly protests downtown
Attending groups, including Portland Black Lives Matter, Portland Tenants United, Standing up for Social Justice, and Portland Anarchist Black Cross, set up tables and tents with informational fliers about their causes, free food, and pins and patches for sale. Rose City Redneck Revolt handed out free vegetable starters at its table because, the group’s representatives said, “It’s hard to organize when you’re hungry.”
Adam Smith, a member of the Inlandboatmen’s Union, described the story of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-immigrant anarchists framed for murder and executed in the 1920s. “I’m really here about people dying for labor rights,” Smith said.
A youth and family zone offered free water bottles and granola bars and materials for kids to make their own signs. Some read, “black lives matter” and “immigrants and refugees are welcome here!” in neon marker. Professional clowns Olive Rootbeer and Dingo Dizmal handed out free balloons.
Between speeches from social justice and labor rights organizers, local dancers performed a colorful Aztec dance that represented the sun, life, and family. The Portland Immigrant Coalition, led by Marco Mejia, organized rally speeches and entertainment.
“We are here for the rights of everyone,” Mejia said. “[Especially] refugees and immigrants. It was bad [for them] before, but now, with the current administration, it’s much worse.”
Protesters prepared to march
Dozens of black-and-yellow-clad bicycle police surrounded the crowd, as well as Legal Observers from the National Lawyers Guild and American Civil Liberties Union.
The May Day Coalition encouraged attendees to write their phone numbers on their children’s clothes. They also encouraged attendees to write the NLG’s legal support number on their skin in sharpie, in case police action violated attendee’s First Amendment rights.
Police-to-attendee interaction remained minimal until 2:45 p.m. when black-clad attendees, including self-titled “medics” began offering cans of Pepsi to police. At 3 p.m., police confiscated stacks of homemade shields from rally participants “for safekeeping,” to be returned after the event if rally attendees showed identification.
March began, riot police appeared immediately
As participants began their march formation at 3:30 p.m., Portland police officers dotted downtown, already fully-suited in armor and helmets with face shields. Loudspeakers topped police SUVs.
Rally members started marching away from Shemanski Park around 3:40 p.m.
As marchers proceeded down the middle of the streets they chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets,” “No justice, no peace,” “Now’s the time to organize,” and “Stand up for workers’ rights.”
A helicopter hovered overhead and security personnel guarded the outside of buildings and on street corners.
Meanwhile, two shoppers from nearby businesses walked in the opposite direction. One asked, “What are they protesting about?”
Their companion replied, “It’s not a protest, it’s terrorism.”
Rally marchers chanted, “No ban, no fear, no wall!” and “anti, anti, anti, anti, Antifa!”
Flying Pepsi not as refreshing as Pepsi from Kendall Jenner
At 4:15 p.m. masked protesters began throwing empty cans of Pepsi at photographers. Protesters seemed to target one photographer, hurling a homemade smoke bomb made of a toilet paper tube and what smelled like sage at them.
Protesters started throwing full cans of Pepsi, followed by blue, orange, yellow, and white smoke bombs. Most flying objects targeted fully-armored police.
Police began following the protest with three squad cars and two SUVs carrying more armored police. At least three flashbangs were launched.
Police cancelled permits for march, ending event
At 4:26 p.m. police announced on loudspeaker, “The city has cancelled the permit for this march. The assembly at this time is unlawful. Persons involved in violent activity are subject to arrest for disorderly conduct in the second degree—assault of a public safety officer and other safety contingency officers.”
Protesters continued to throw objects and screamed, “We won’t take this! Fuck you!”
“This is the Portland Police Bureau,” police announced on sound cannons. “Officers have observed the throwing of Molotov cocktails and metal objects.”
“Yada, yada, yada, yada,” protesters responded.
Organizers directed the march west on SW Pine then looped back onto SW Third and headed south where protesters at the back of the march released a smoke screen and threw yellow smoke bombs at police.
Bursts of two and three highly repercussive rounds rocked the streets. Police formed a human wall and put on gas masks, blocking SW Third past Morrison and forcing protesters west on Morrison.
Police gathered into squad formation, launched more flashbangs and followed protesters up Morrison, directing them not to backtrack.
“Let’s go another way,” one marcher said. “We need to stick together. There are a lot more of us than them.”
Flashbangs became increasingly frequent.
“Persons who remain on the roadway or participate in violent behavior are subject to arrest and/or, as emergency basis require, are subject to the use of force, including riot control batons and impact weapons,” police announced.
“Abandon your positions!” an agitator yelled.
Protesters left things in street and started small contained fire
Protesters flung obstacles in the roadway, including folding retail signs, chairs and tables.
At 4:46 p.m at SW Fourth and Morrison, protesters threw newspapers and other items into the middle of the intersection and lit them on fire. One protester gave a rallying cry of, “Whose streets? Our streets,” and other cries for resistance.
Police formed a line blocking SW Morrison headed toward the water.
On SW Tenth, between Taylor and Salmon, a PPD vehicle was destroyed. The SUV’s tires were flattened and “ACAB” was written in black on the driver’s side before being reportedly set on fire. “ACAB” is an anti-police acronym that stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.” A blue plastic trash bin could be seen burning across the street from the incinerated police vehicle.
Twenty-five people arrested
Arrests appeared to have taken place mostly at SW Fifth and Jefferson.
Trimet buses were used to cart those arrested to the Multnomah Corrections Facility. Reporter Mike Bivins noted these buses don’t have seat belts, and carrying protesters with zip tied hands created a safety problem, reminiscent of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore. Trimet buses were used the previous weekend to give pro-Trump rally attendants a free ride at the end of their route.
Police and protesters stood around with an air of uncertainty. By 5:30 p.m. the area was calm while the blue trash bin was half-melted and still smoking.
It’s not over until protesters are released
Around 6 p.m. 15NowPSU and others from “A Day Without Immigrants” rally wrapped up their activities in the Smith Memorial Student Union building.
Police, protesters and observers moved to SW Second and Madison where police had walled off all street access to Multnomah County Corrections. At 6:40 p.m. police blocked off the Smartpark on the southeast corner of the intersection to traffic and pedestrians.
Two legal observers from the ACLU and a photographer were prevented from entering the Smartpark. One observer said they felt odd about being restricted from observation. The photographer noted the many times Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested.
By 9:30 p.m. the area was quiet except for a crowd of friends and sympathizers occupying the precinct entrance. Officer Hythum Ismail said the central command radios were dead. “Party’s over,” Ismail said.
The crowd shouted, “Fuck you!” when riot police rounded the precinct building. The crowd cheered when each of their friends were released. Of the 25 suspects, the three minors arrested for riot were among the first sent home.
Gregory McKelvey, founder of Portland Resistance, contested media and police representations of May Day. According to McKelvey, small fires and flash grenades are often used to prevent police from advancing on peaceful protesters. “My understanding,” McKelvey said, referring to the pile of newsstands set aflame, “was that they were set to stop the police from advancing on [the crowd].”
Reflection, response, controversy
McKelvey could be seen standing close to the fire, which separated police from a small crowd of people gathered in front of a parking garage across from Pioneer Place mall.
“There’s a distinction between destruction for the sake of destruction and doing what you can to prevent the police from advancing on a peaceful march,” McKelvey said. Behind a wall of black-clad protesters that police advanced on, McKelvey claimed, parents with kids and dogs were still marching.
What Molotov cocktails?
In addition, neither McKelvey nor any Vanguard reporters saw protesters throw Molotov cocktails like those PPB reported. “If that were true, we would know,” McKelvey said, explaining that Molotov cocktails usually make a spectacular fire display.
Sgt. Pete Simpson, public information officer for PPB, said one officer reported that a glass bottle was thrown but did not catch fire or cause any damage. “The information that was learned in the field during the melee was that there was something thrown that hit the ground and broke and burned and didn’t damage anything,” Simpson said. “It didn’t burst into flames. Either it didn’t work or it was faulty.”
What is a riot?
Simpson said the march was deemed a riot as soon as attendees started breaking the law. Simpson acknowledged that the front of the march was peaceful and law-abiding, but “the rest of the crowd went wild and went on a rampage.”
McKelvey was at the back of the march when police cancelled the protest permit. No one in the back could hear the police announcements, McKelvey claimed, so they were taken by surprise when police started breaking up the march.
While McKelvey, as well as other activists on Facebook and Twitter, decried the use of the word “riot” to describe May Day’s end, Simpson said the word was used to condemn illegal actions and disperse the crowd. “It’s important for people to understand that those words are based on the actions occurring. [Riot means] it’s time to leave.”
PPB also used the term “anarchist” in their tweets to describe provocateurs at the march. Though many of the attendees wore all black and masked their faces, McKelvey contended, “You don’t have to be an anarchist to wear all black or a mask.”
“When the groups show up in black and all masks, they are subscribing to the anarchist mentality,” Simpson explained. He went on to say that when PPB tells the public that anarchists are committing criminal acts, people know to avoid masked, black-clad people in the streets.
After the event, McKelvey tweeted, “So after today, why would any march ever get a permit? The only result is police knowing where to hurt us.” McKelvey said he remembered police shoving and pushing people to the ground, putting their knees to arrestees’ backs, and firing projectiles.
“When [the police] make the city look like a war zone, it discourages people from ever coming out to protests,” McKelvey said.
“I understand why everyone is angry at anarchists,” rally attendee Kevin Grigsby said. “[People] shouldn’t break other people’s stuff. What they broke has a value of money. The anarchists are being talked about. Government needs to stop worrying about money and start helping people more.”
Updated May 9 at 6:47p.m.: This article originally included details drawn from a linked news article with identifying information of an arrest without clarifying their as-yet unconfirmed nature, although the linked news report did include the phrase ‘allegedly’. The paragraph has been removed.