Occupy ICE evicted

After five weeks of occupying federal land surrounding Portland’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility, the Occupy ICE PDX protest came to an end early on the morning of Wednesday, July 25 as dozens of Portland Police Bureau officers stormed the camp and cleared out the dozen or so protestors who remained. In a press briefing, Chief of Portland Police Bureau Danielle Outlaw said the operation went smoothly and without the use of force or any arrests.

On June 17, occupiers planted themselves in front of the entrances of the ICE facility, protesting the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. The occupation prevented federal workers from entering and caused the facility to shut down for eight days, beginning June 20. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler was vocal during this time about his intention for the PPB to remain hands-off with the occupiers, leaving the issue to be handled by federal authorities.

On June 25, protesters were served with an official notice informing them that blocking the entrances to the federal building was illegal and any campers who chose to remain in front of the entrances would be forcibly removed.

Around 5:30 a.m. on June 28, after more attempts to serve the same notice to campers, federal authorities formed a barricade around the occupiers and forcibly cleared them and their temporary living structures from the entrances. The operation resulted in several arrests and misdemeanor charges for failure to comply with the orders of federal agents. However, more tents and structures were built, and supporters of the movement continued to join as similar movements across the country followed suit.

The June 28 raid was not the final combative incident associated with the occupation. On July 9, Department of Homeland Security officers arrested two people who allegedly spat at officers and tore down tape put up to separate the camp from the federal building. Members of the occupation had a different account of what happened, however, and claimed DHS had approached the camp for no reason and fired pepper balls at unarmed protesters.

Two days later, on July 11, DHS officers made eight more arrests after occupiers locked arms and blocked the parking lot of the ICE facility in an attempt to prevent a bus from leaving the facility. According to the sources within the movement, the bus was transporting a detainee to a detention facility in Tacoma, Wash.

Federal Protective Service spokesperson Robert Sperling said the protestors had previously been warned to clear the driveway and eventually forced DHS officers to take physical action after protesters threw several objects in the direction of police, including a board with protruding nails. Sperling claimed the occupiers had agreed to not block the driveway under any circumstances. Occupation organizers refuted this claim.  

At a July 23 press conference, Wheeler warned occupiers to vacate the camp or be disbanded by police. “It’s time to move on to the second phase of this,” Wheeler said. “To a more sustainable front that focuses on immigration policy over the next months and years.”

By the evening of July 23, notices of exclusion had been posted throughout the camp, citing crimes including criminal trespassing, erecting a structure in a public right of way, and camping in a public right of way. City officials did not specify when police would sweep the campers from the area, but some protesters speculated it would be around midnight on July 24.

In response to the eviction notice, Occupy ICE organizers tweeted, “Camp consensus: We don’t move until ICE is out of Portland and abolished.”

Around 4:30 a.m. on July 25, PPB officers moved in on the camp and began evicting campers.

“They came in really quick this morning around 4:15 a.m. from the south side of camp by the Tesla dealership,” said an occupier who identified himself as John. “There was still about a dozen of us camped in, and they went from tent to tent telling us it was time to go.”

“PPB determined the conditions down here were no longer sustainable for a few reasons,” Outlaw said. “We received over a period of time 76 calls of service. Of those, about 41 were dispatch calls [meaning an officer was sent to the scene]…We also received 13 online complaints associated with the camp about behaviors of individuals that have impacted the safety of people [in] the South Waterfront area.”

“I agree with the idea that no child should be separated from their parents, but the members of this protest group lost their way a while ago,” said local resident Mark Gerard. “They have not been civil with the local residents and businesses. At this point, I’m not sorry to see them go.”

By 8 a.m., the camp was mostly vacant, with only a few occupiers remaining. An occupier who identified himself as Sammich—“ like a PB&J,” he quipped—or Sam for short, said he was able to step away from his work and briefly reflect on his time with the occupation movement.

“It’s been quite astonishing, the level of community we’ve been able to build here despite the many varying degrees on the spectrum of which political views are represented within this camp,” Sam said. “We’ve been able to come together with [a] pretty high level of coalescence and make a lot of really incredible things happen.”

Sam was quick to acknowledge, however, that the occupation had its various twists and turns. On July 20, for instance, the camp came face-to-face with United States Senate candidate Joey Gibson and his right-wing protest group Patriot Prayer. The group has frequently made its presence known in Portland, most recently during its June 30 Freedom and Courage Rally, which quickly devolved into violence before being declared a riot.

When Gibson and his crew arrived, they attracted attention from the PPB as well as local anti-fascist groups. “That was such a spectacle,” Sam said. “I tried to stay a little hands-off with it because I’m not always the most diplomatic of individuals in those types of situations, but it seemed like [Gibson] was just overly trying to convince everyone on this side of the barricade that they stood in solidarity with our causes and our purposes.”

“I don’t take any personal political standpoint or direct affiliation,” Sam said, “but the racist tendencies of what I know Patriot Prayer to be…that just doesn’t sit well with anyone back here. Especially considering the reason for which [the occupation], as a whole, exists. When individuals like that try to come into the mix, a lot of them just come in to cause trouble, just to cause dissension within the encampment, just to cause it to break down on its own.”

In a live video on his Facebook account, Gibson said his reasons for visiting the camp were nonviolent. He said he was interested in civil disobedience as a form of protest and wanted to see it firsthand.

When PPB posted the notices ordering the camp to vacate, Sam said the occupiers had a “very loose, impromptu, short-lived group discussion that basically, all in all, said ‘hey, this is what’s happening, PPB isn’t gonna mess around with us, and it’s up to each and every individual.’” He said many of the occupiers decided at that juncture to leave ahead of the forthcoming police intervention, but that it was a welcomed and understood choice within the camp.

“There are women with children here, youngsters. I’ve seen one as young as two months old,” Sam said. “So people like that, people who are to a degree physically disabled, some of our elderly have left; the immediate concern is mostly what it’s been and that makes perfect sense.”

As of Tuesday morning, though, Sam said he was ready to stay put and accept the consequences. “I’ve been here this long,” Sam said. “I can’t say I’m quite committed to being dragged out of here in chains—that’s never a pleasant experience—but, nevertheless, that’s not something too harsh to suffer for the cause.”

Sam said he was confident the desired outcome of the movement had not changed and would not change. “Ideally, if I had it my way, we’d stay until not just this building was permanently shut down, but until the entire branch of the government [ICE] were shut down,” Sam said. “We’ve all come here and been here with the understanding that this is temporary. If it’s time, it’s time.”