By Judas James
Around 7 a.m. Sunday morning I was sleeping in my tent when my whole tent shook, and it was a Portland Police Officer telling me I had five minutes to leave. As I crawled out of my tent, I saw everybody else coming out of theirs. The cops were actually nice about it, gentle. It made me worry. We’d completely overrun the cops on Saturday night, and I had this feeling that if I was a cop and that had happened to me, I’d be angry. So I didn’t trust this surprising gentleness.
The guy in the tent in front of me was Carlos. He was always wildly dressed in layers of different brightly-colored clothes, sometimes a dress, sometimes scarves, sometimes really tight levis. Carlos is the most beautiful man, very feminine, and yet he can be very loud. He was coming out of his tent. He had fixed his tent up so that no cops could get in there. He had a little pup tent with a tarp over it, staked down with pieces of bicycle forks. He was saying, “Yep, Portland police backed down like a bunch of pussies. We won, man.”
We won? I don’t know what the rules are, but if a cop wakes me up in the morning and tells me I have five minutes to move, I don’t call that a win. The bottom of my tent was soupy with mud and rotten hay. I was unsure whether I wanted to pack up my tent or not. I thought maybe I’d just leave it there. I was joking with Carlos, and Rumorz was serving that watered-down coffee of theirs, but police were all over the park.
We had won on Saturday night. We were still talking about how awesome it was. “We actually pushed those cops all the way to Madison!” But now it was Sunday morning, and they were back. It was the morning shift. These cops had slept well and they were fresh. We were cold, hungry, and exhausted.
I packed my stuff and walked over to the front of the park where the Relaxation Station was. My friend Mario was grabbing pallets and fortifying that spot in the park. He says, “Hey man, if you promise me you’re gonna be nonviolent, you can lock yourself in here with us.”
I loved those guys in the Relaxation Station, they were so accepting, and I knew I was nonviolent, but I didn’t go with them because I didn’t see the point of being arrested. I didn’t see how that was going to help me or help the movement. I packed up a small bag of my stuff, made sure Carlos was OK, and I went to check on an elderly man who had been camping near us. Every morning when he woke up, he’d walk around making a who-hoo noise kind of like an owl. I loved that guy. Every time he made that sound I made it back to him. He wasn’t there, so I figured he got out and was safe.
Food started to come in from all over the place–sandwich stuff, turkey breast meat, real meat, not like the vegetarian stuff we’d been having. We’d been eating vegetarian for weeks. I felt like I was an honorary vegetarian. But Sunday morning there was meat. We were setting up the tables, handing out food. My friend Dave came back to ask how everything went. We were eating, everything seemed to be fine apart from the cops all over the place, but then I looked behind me and I saw the same helmets and uniforms I saw Saturday night, walking towards us. The officers that had waked us up were gone, and there were the storm troopers coming up behind us. They walked about fifteen feet into the park, across the back of both parks. They started to close in a little more, elbow to elbow, and they began being a little more physical, pushing certain individuals, yanking their tents up.
IF SATURDAY NIGHT WAS A MOVIE, THIS IS THE REAL THING.
We’re chanting, “We’re a peaceful protest.” We chant like the night before, “We don’t see no riot here! Take off your riot gear.” But if Saturday night was a movie, this is the real thing.
Then the cops grab a tent that has a blind dog in it. People are yelling at them, “There’s a dog in there! Wait!” They dragged the tent off, and I heard later that the dog ended up in a dumpster, dead. Some said the police stomped the dog to death, but I didn’t see that. I don’t know how they killed the dog. Soon after that the guy comes to the camp, looking for his dog. He’s hurting, bad. Maybe there’s a hundred of us milling around, maybe less. Saturday night it was more people than cops. Now it’s more cops than people. The tension is intense.
The cops move closer and closer to us. The guys in the Relaxation Station shut the gates. We’re standing across from the riot cops just like the night before. We’ve got two tables full of food, and people still eating. Some people are saying they don’t think the cops are going to be violent. I’m telling people to calm down. There are people with cameras, observers. We start yelling, and suddenly there are people showing up, coming out of office buildings and stores. The media crew cameras are there, and we’re thinking it’s another standoff, and we’re gonna win again.
I look to my right and see a Portland police officer jab a media camera man in the ribs–maybe it was Channel 8 or Fox, I’m not sure, jab him in the ribs four or five times to get him to move. This is right on the edge of the park by Main. I’m by the Relaxation Station and the two tables of food: there are women, little kids, older people who had been there the night before.
We stand our ground, pretty much nose to nose with the cops, and as I’m standing there, the cops grab a guy with a camera and slam him down on the ground. I pick him up to make sure he’s OK. The cops in front of us stand their ground. They don’t move or flinch. The cop that knocked this guy down proceeds to start hitting him again. The guy isn’t even an occupier. He has a camera, he’s there as an observer. He’s not doing anything different than what any of us are doing. I’m thinking, “That guy is somebody’s uncle, somebody’s dad, somebody’s brother. Could be the cop’s brother for all I know.” I’m trying to pull the guy away from the cops, and then I lose him.
Some of the police in front of us backed up a little as the ones from behind us were coming in, and that’s when the cops started shoving. We shoved back to hold our ground. We weren’t leaving. The line of people that had been eating were being pushed out onto Fourth Street. The cops pushed, we pushed back. I was behind the first line of people, which consisted of a couple of my friends and a woman in her fifties I had never seen before, and a little girl, maybe her granddaughter up front. When the cops shoved, they shoved the woman and the little girl toward me, and I put them behind me. The cops shoved again, and we shoved back. We were in the street now, we were out of the park, and the cops were still pushing.
Then I saw the Portland police jabbing people with those batons. The sound of the batons crashing down on human bodies made made me feel sick. People were screaming and grunting. There was a little Asian kid, I guess he was on the safety committee or the medical committee, he was telling us what to do in case of tear gas. He gets hit first, and then everybody’s getting hit. They’re hitting us with those long batons they had the night before. Some of them had batons, and some of them had the long sticks with handles on them, the billy clubs. Every time a cop hit someone with a baton, another officer would hit the same person with a club. They used the batons like spears to knock people off balance, and then they clubbed them when they were down.
One of the people I saw get hit repeatedly was a female. They grabbed her violently and tried to pull her out of the crowd toward them. It was like their system: grab people one by one, pull them out of the crowd into a circle of police, throw them down on the mud or the cement, and cuff them. I think the woman’s name was Erin. I didn’t see her again. I haven’t seen her since. I don’t know what happened to her.
It went on like that, I lost sense of time, I don’t know for how long. The police were swinging their batons and billy clubs, people were screaming, the police were grabbing people one by one and dragging them out of the crowd. Not one person hit a cop. We just had our hands, our arms. They had batons and clubs and they were laying into us. Then they had us all out in the street, and and they ordered us to clear the street for traffic. They stood there in a vicious line and waited for us to clear out. We were calling for people to come and stand behind us. I was holding the line between Main and Fourth. It was a bad place to be, and we probably shouldn’t have tried to hold that street. It just seemed the thing to do at the time, following on Saturday night. We weren’t doing anything wrong. It was a peaceful protest, and a few of my friends were beat up pretty bad.
Then here comes the speaker truck, informing us that if we don’t disperse, they’ll use chemical agents or explosives. We see a couple officers with something that looks like paint ball guns. We found out later it was pepper spray. They were super excited, like they couldn’t wait to use them. It seemed they were way more angry than the night before.
At that point I was yelling, and most of what came out of my mouth was vulgar. I had controlled it so much the night before and the day before, and it just came pouring out. I remember screaming right into one cop’s face, “You’re being paid to hurt me and my friends!” He didn’t look at me. I screamed at him, “The whole world is watching.” He didn’t flinch. I looked him right in his eyes, but there was nobody there. I couldn’t connect with a human being behind those eyes.
So now there’s enough of us that we’re starting the chants again. The speaker box is telling us if we don’t disperse and clear the street, there will be chemical agents and explosives. One of our woman facilitators was on the megaphone, and she kept saying, “We’re a peaceful protest, we’re peaceful people.” And then we’d say it again, “Peaceful protest. Peaceful people.” The police have their bullhorn going, and we have our megaphone. So now we have a human being arguing with another human being on a bigger bullhorn. Nobody’s going anywhere, and by then there’s a pretty decent-sized crowd.
An hour or more into it, we were on 4th and Main, and the campers who had disappeared in the morning were back. The guys with the bandanas around their faces were back, and they had baking soda and water, in case of pepper spray or tear gas. Then there was a call for everyone to march to Pioneer Square for a GA meeting. People were arriving with food, lots of water, Taco Bell. It sounded like a good idea to me. I was tired, tired of how I looked and how I felt. At that point I just wanted some peace. The only thing that could’ve happened next was more of the same.
BACK TO PIONEER SQUARE
The crowd was trapped between 4th and 5th on Main–cops in front of them and motorcycle cops and bike cops behind them, and we just left. We thought the whole crowd was going to follow us. About fifteen or twenty of us ended up in Pioneer Square, and there was a big police presence in Pioneer Square, too. We sat at Pioneer Square, wondering why there were so few of us. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what it was useful to do, or what I could do. A small group of us decided if there was tear gas, we had to go back and help. But we didn’t know if they were really going to use the tear gas. The Asian kid ran back with a recon group while we waited at Pioneer Square. They didn’t come back for a long time. We heard sirens. We heard cheering or shouting, and we found out later that more police reinforcements had showed up. Then a Portland police car rolled into Pioneer Square. The driver and passenger got out with a big container of some kind–I thought it was some kind of special weapon, but it turned out it was barbecue. One cop pulled out a big spoon and started serving it up to the officers who were in Pioneer Square. They’re eating. Eating well. And I’m starving. It’s around noon, I guess. It’s hard to know what time it was because time seemed to stop. It was gloomy, and it was like time didn’t exist any more.
A few people showed up and told us there was still a front line, but it was looking ugly. Some of the tweaker drug addict kids were sick of being peaceful and had joined the crowd. There was a guy, we called him Metal, punk rock big guy–heart of gold, smart guy, a vocabulary that’s outstanding–everybody in the camp knew him. Some people didn’t take him seriously. He drinks, he does drugs, and yet if somebody needs him, he’ll be there for them. If you drink out of his canteen, you never know what it’s going to be. It might be water, might be wine, could be vodka. Metal says, “It looks like some of our brothers are sick of being peaceful, so I’m going to go with some of my friends and see if we can get them to settle down and bring them back here.”
Metal leaves, takes small group of his friends with him and they’re gone for about ten, fifteen minutes. Now tempers are starting to flare with people in Pioneer Square. At this point it looks like we’re not a movement anymore. It’s ten or eleven of us sitting there, and others there who hadn’t been there through any of this, telling us what they thought we should do. I didn’t want to hear anything. A lot of anger was just flying around among us. We couldn’t express our anger at the police, so we started dumping it on each other.
We didn’t know what was going on. I lit a cigarette, started walking up the street. A kid came running up behind me and we went to see what was going on. We got to 5th, and they had the street right before Main blocked off, and nobody could walk through. We had to go up 6th and all the way around.
We get there, and now there’s a lot of people there. At the very least a thousand people, including all the people on the sidewalks. All I can smell is vinegar, that’s what they were dipping the bandanas in, it was supposed to help if there was tear gas. The police officers are starting to look tired. It’s late in the afternoon. So I go all the way to the front line, and I’m telling the kids, come on, let’s go back–don’t touch the officers, let’s go back to Pioneer Square. “
No dude, I’m here to help anybody that gets gassed. I want to make sure they’re OK.”
I said, “So if they start shooting rubber bullets, is it worth it? Is it what we fought for all last night? Let’s all go.”
He said, “If you want to run back to Pioneer Square, you go on back.”
I couldn’t get anybody to leave. They wanted to hold Main. We had been up all night, and we were mad. I stayed to watch what was going to happen next. It was just a standoff. The cops weren’t pushing, but we weren’t leaving. I don’t know who was running the megaphone at that point, one of the women facilitators, and she asked us if we wanted to retreat, go back to Pioneer Square and do an emergency assembly? Or did we want to stay right there? Temperature check, everybody wanted to stay right there.
I thought, that’s another hour of standing on my feet. I just lost my home, my belongings. Most of my friends were arrested or in the hospital. I heard Justin Bridges, our sign language guy, had been beaten, but I didn’t see it myself. We held a GA meeting right there in the street, and it was forty-five minutes of going nowhere. After a while I walked back to Pioneer Square. I was just tired of it all. Guys started arguing:
“You live in a house, you don’t know anything!”
“I worked harder than anybody else!”
A lot of resumes were being spit out,
“I’ve been here since the first day, so I know more than you.”
“This is all bullshit.”
“The movement’s not going anywhere.”
“Just a bunch of college boy stuff.”
The cops are silent and intimidating. They don’t yell back at us. We end up yelling at each other because we need to yell at somebody.
DARK COMING ON
It was Sunday night and I was starting to lose hope and feel really angry. The people that had homes were going to go home and keep arguing about it, and the rest of us, what? A lot of talk, no action. We lost our homes, we were hungry, we were tired, and we were sick of words. None of us had a clue what we were going to do. Dark was coming on. For a while, it seemed like we were a community. But now the cops had scattered us, and we were all on our own with our memories of batons and billy clubs and screams of pain that we can’t forget. I didn’t have the stomach to stand around arguing in Pioneer Square. It sounded like a bunch of politicians arguing, like the same system we were trying to leave. So I left and I went to a friend’s home. She took me in and also my friend Dave. He has some really good video footage on his phone, of what the police were doing, if he can find who to give it to. We decided to recuperate, get some rest, get some food in us and rethink what our part in the movement is going to be now.