Update: Thanks to our own Horace Boothroyd III, I can update Kossacks with a video to my (previously posted to DKOS) personal account of the pepper-spray attack by the Portland police on Eiizabeth Nichols.
Until i saw Horace Boothroyd's recent diary, I did not realize that the woman who I saw dragged off by the hair was the same woman who had been pepper-sprayed by the police in this now iconic photograph, and it was the pepper-spray attack which had caused her to fall to the pavement. I didn't actually see the pepper spray, as I was looking the other way. (You can see me being shoved by some asshole carrying an umbrella.)
I did however see Elizabeth Nichols on the ground and dragged off by the police. I want to point out that there was an extreme danger of trampling here due to the tactics the police had chosen, and to force Elizabeth Nichols to the ground by use of pepper spray, placed her in great danger of additional serious injury from that source.
Original post (from 11/18/11): Yesterday, November 17, 2011, I was at the intersection of 6th and Yamhill in downtown Portland, Oregon. There is a branch of the Chase bank at the SW corner this intersection. This almost the center of the city, and it is where the eastbound light rail line on Yamhill intersects the northbound line on 6th Avenue. I had been at earlier demonstrations that day, but not continuously.
Tromping in with mounted officers, they pushed marchers who had gathered on the sidewalks along SW Yamhill into the street—forcing them to block MAX trains, something no one was doing until the heavily armored riot squad showed up—and then poked and, for the first time, pepper-sprayed the marchers.
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The city, days after (Police Chief) Reese and (Mayor) Adams were rightly heralded for not gassing or pepper-spraying occupiers in what easily could have a massive conflagration this weekend, now joins other cities whose occupiers are swapping war stories about chemical assaults and accusations of police brutality.
Here is a video showing the general appearance of the scene. This portion was not what I saw, but I'm sure these mounted officers were the same ones I saw. 6th Avenue is to the right in this video, which is taken looking south from about the edge of the sidewalk on Yamhill Street.
When I got to the intersection, there was a police van equipped with loudspeakers parked immediately to the west of 6th Avenue, which runs north and south. Over the speakers, someone, a woman, was issuing commands to people to move off Yamhill Street and 6th Avenue "pursuant to Oregon law" and onto the sidewalk. The only people I saw in the street were a large number of riot-clad police officers stretching across Yamhill Street.
I crossed 6th Avenue, obeying traffic signals, and went to the sidewalk near the police van. This was right outside the Chase bank branch. I tried to take pictures with my cell phone. The whole time I remained on the sidewalk and did not put one foot on to the street. I actually saw only one person in the street, he seemed to be taunting the police, I urged him to get on the sidewalk, but either he didn't hear me or he didn't want to.
Sometime between 1:30 and 4:00 pm (I wasn't there at the time so I can't say exactly when) there was a blockade of the Chase branch, Just what happened I don't know, but here's a video of it. This is not the same event as the later clearing of the sidewalk, which I'll describe later:
This video shows approximately the situation at 6th and Yamhill in the late afternoon.
After arriving on the bank side of 6th Avenue, I watched the police in Yamhill Street for a while. Again, the speaker truck kept telling people to leave the street and go to the sidewalk, and as far as I could tell, this pretty much had happened. The next thing I knew policemen on horses and a phalanx of police on foot were marching east down the sidewalk on 6th avenue, trying force people into the intersection. I looked behind me to see what to do, and I realized there was a line of police behind me preventing me (and all the other people on the sidewalk) from crossing back across 6th Avenue. According to the Portland Mercury:
A protester who gave his name as Josh said he was pinned against a utility box on Yamhill and couldn't go anywhere, but that an officer hit him with his baton three times until he could wriggle free. He said there wasn't any direction from the cops—the cops were forcing protesters off sidewalks, but the PA van was telling people to get off the street.
This was almost exactly my experience, minus the baton, thankfully -- it was unclear whether to stay on the sidewalk, where the police were advancing, or go into the street, where obviously one would risk arrest.
Up until then, I spoke not a word in protest, I wasn't carrying a sign, just a computer shoulder pack. (I was even wearing a tie!). I did see what I thought was somebody throwing something at the police, this I definitely did NOT agree with, both as a matter of principle and owing to the fact that this was rapidly becoming a very tense situation.
As the crowd was compressed, it became difficult to move. I found myself looking at a solid row of police, each one carrying a baton holding it up like a bar bell in front of their black armored chests. This was something that I had never seen before. Meanwhile there was shouting and there was a constant loud sound of a news helicopter hovering overhead. It seemed unreal, like a movie.
I saw one man fall down, I think he lost his footing in the crowd. Then I heard some one say "Look out, look out here" or something like that. I looked down at my feet, and I saw a woman down on the sidewalk, it looked as if she'd fallen down, but I couldn't say. I reached down to help her to her feet, but before I could do so, a police officer, I think it was a women officer, grabbed her by her reddish-blond hair, and dragged her along the sidewalk into the police line, and I never saw her again. I remember seeing her face as she was dragged off.
Up until then, I had only gone to watch. I am a very big chicken you see. But that was too much for me. I then started shouting. I think I said "Is that what you do, drag a woman off by her hair?" I then tried to figure a way out of this predicament, as it appeared I was likely to get arrested or worse if I didn't do so.
By the way, this was almost the exact location where the Christmas Tree Bomber is supposed to have planted a car bomb (turns out it was a fake in an FBI sting operation).
It looked to me like the only way to get out of the very bad situation on the sidewalk was to cross into the street, proceeding northbound across Yamhill Street to Pioneer Square. I was very reluctant to do this, because the police had been instructing people to stay out of the street. But since apparently staying on the sidewalk was rapidly about to produce something unpleasant, I decamped across the street without incident.
I then walked around up and down both sides of 6th Avenue and watched what was happening. There was much maneuvering of the police, and shouting and jeering by the crowd, who were mostly confined to the sidewalks, as far as I could tell.
Eventually the police started to leave, this was about 5:00 pm, and the buses started to come through. I heard people call out "Let the buses through, this isn't against the buses. When the first bus came through, I heard people cheer. I think there were a lot of people there who did not want to block buses, which by the way was what I had seen at an earlier march.
Anyway, the police just left after all this, and the buses and trains started coming through, even though the sidewalks were still crowded with people. I looked around and there weren't any police around at all and the whole situation seemed much less tense.
Earlier on N17 I had seen protests in front of bank branches at Wells Fargo and Bank of America, both of these were on 5th Avenue, and I felt that the police had properly handled the matter, preventing people from spilling over onto the southbound light rail tracks and allowing buses to safely pass.
I was very surprised to see what appeared to be confusing and inconsistent instructions issued by the police a few hours later at 6th and Yamhill. Why did they order people off the street, and then clear the sidewalk by force?
From what I could see, I thought the marchers showed pretty good discipline, and if someone from the City, Mayor Adams, for example, had shown up, the whole thing might have been handled a lot more easily. I also think that that the banks, knowing in advance this was coming, could have sent a representative.
I believe that the police badly mishandled the situation at 6th and Yamhill, I think they used excessive force, and I think that their conduct made the situation much worse than it would have been.