After a Death Downtown, Portland Wakes Up to Another Morning Under the National Spotlight

History has its eyes on us.

By Julia Silverman August 30, 2020

Protesters gather at Tom McCall Waterfront Park this summer for a Black Lives Matter protest.

Once, not that long and a million years ago, when the city of Portland made the national news, it was mostly about doughnuts. Or bicycles. Or beer.  

Not anymore. 

That was never the whole story, of course. Portland is layered and complicated, struggling to come to terms with its racist past and gentrified present, but to outsiders, the city was cast as a twee utopia, a semi-affordable West Coast haven for the creative and the cool. 

Then came the summer of 2020, and now the city is starring in the GOP’s prevailing Hail Mary narrative of President Donald J. Trump as the “law and order” candidate who can protect the rest of the country from cities like ours. (In his speech at last week’s Republican convention, Trump thundered that under his Democratic opponent Joe Biden’s administration. “every city would look like Democrat-run Portland, Oregon.” True to form, Portlanders responded by flooding social media with images of a green, livable city.) 

In a press conference with reporters last week, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler acknowledged that the city’s “brand” had suffered, saying “Portland is typically ranked as one of the most livable cities in the world, year after year. But if we are being truly honest with ourselves, we know that we have work to do to maintain and ultimately restore and build upon our image.” 

That was before Saturday night, when a caravan of Trump supporters rolled into downtown, armed with mace, pepper spray, paintball guns, and more, clashing violently with the Black Lives Matter protesters who have spent more than three months on the streets since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. The night culminated in a man being shot and killed. Images from the scene suggest he was affiliated with the far-right groups who have violently infiltrated Portland protests in the last few years.  

By Sunday morning, Portland was leading the newscast on Fox News, with a headline that screamed “Fury in Portland, and commentators asking whether Biden had waited too long to “condemn the violence in American cities.”

Over on CNN, the shooting in Portland, along with unrest all week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, after police shot a Black man seven times in the back in front of his children, gave the Sunday morning pontificators a chance to consider "Can civil unrest re-elect Donald Trump?”

The more liberal leaning MSNBC’s take was different, featuring the former head of the National Black Police Association alleging that behavior by local, city, and federal police have left protesters no choice but to fight back, in Portland and elsewhere. 

The New York Times, too, led with the story, quoting acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf’s suggestion that a surge in federal law enforcement may soon return to the city, while the Washington Post vividly described a night of clashes between opposite sides. 

And in a sign that Trump, too, was watching closely, the president let loose with a torrent of tweets and retweets on Sunday morning, including a number that raged against Wheeler in particular, winding up with an all-caps “LAW AND ORDER!” for emphasis. 

His opponent in the upcoming presidential election, Democratic nominee Joe Biden also issued a statement Sunday condemning the violence, and accusing Trump of “fanning the flames of hate and division” in American society. "Shooting in the streets of a great American city is unacceptable,” he said.  

Meanwhile, for reporting from local journalists who have been covering protests for several months now, see Tuck Woodstock, Sergio Olmos,  Zane Sparling, Alex Zielinski, and Andrew Jankowski.

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