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Racial Justice Protests In Portland Enter Their 3rd Month


If the Trump administration ever thought that flooding the streets with unidentified federal agents would calm the protests in Portland, Ore. - if they ever thought that, events have proven them wrong. The city is entering its third month of demonstrations. In theory, federal agents were sent to guard federal property there. Instead, their tear gas and military-style uniforms have drawn the attention of protesters to the federal courthouse.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose streets?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our streets.

INSKEEP: Some of the sounds of a weekend of protest. NPR's Vanessa Romo has been watching it in Portland, Ore. Hi there, Vanessa.


INSKEEP: What did you see overnight?

ROMO: Well, it's the same kind of pattern that's been playing out every night since I arrived here a few days ago. Thousands of protesters showed up in front of the federal courthouse. And on Sunday night, there was a much smaller group out there into the morning. But still, people banged on the gates that are outside the federal building. And police responded with tear gas again. And there were some arrests.

The thing is that protesters now expect federal agents to blast them with flash grenades and tear gas. So they bring leaf blowers out to blow the canisters and the smoke back toward the building. Another thing that they're doing is taking a page from the protesters in Hong Kong. So after the fence was torn down on Saturday and the feds were firing tear gas into the crowd, they kneeled down and held up shields and umbrellas and formed a wall against the onslaught.

INSKEEP: Is there a kind of rhythm of the day as this has gone on day after day after day? Some parts are calm, some parts, not so much.

ROMO: Yeah. What's interesting is in the middle of the day, it's really calm there. And so there's a park across the street from the federal courthouse. And there's music playing. They play '80s pop hits. And there's guys grilling up barbecue. And they just hand them out. And there's kind of a festive atmosphere there. It's very mellow. It's only until it gets dark that things really start ratcheting up - and actually, not just dark, but really late into the night, so the very early morning hours.

INSKEEP: What do protesters say they want?

ROMO: You know, during one of these quiet moments, I did speak to a protester who's been out there from the very start. Her name is Melissa Guerrerro (ph). And she says that things have really gotten out of control since President Trump sent in the federal forces.

MELISSA GUERRERRO: We want the feds out. And we want the police to take accountability and start stepping back from their role as, like, murdering people, basically.

ROMO: And just to be clear, what she means there by murdering people is that the killing of Black people and other people of color by the police, so people like George Floyd.

INSKEEP: I want to make sure, Vanessa, that I understand what's going on here. I want to make sure that I understand this because it sounds like the protests began against the Portland police. People were concerned about their community and what their local police were doing. And now they've been transformed into protests against this federal activity in their city. They've actually changed directions because of what the federal government has done. Is that correct?

ROMO: That is correct. And the two things are tied to one another because it's essentially what the public perceives as oppression of free speech and demonstration and excessive use of force. So the two things are connected. But, you know, Melissa Guerrerro actually made that point to me, saying that people need to refocus and really zoom in on the Black Lives Matter mission, which is to hold local police accountable for the way that they treat local communities and communities of color.

INSKEEP: And, of course, Portland is just one place where there's been violent protests in recent days. Austin and Aurora, Colo., are among the others. Vanessa Romo, thank you very much.

ROMO: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.
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