Portland, Seattle…. Where Are We

So Many Different Stories are Mixed in All This. It’s Worth Keeping Track

What’s Happening on the Ground

I have written in this space before that Portland does have a history of problematic protests. If memory serves, this is the case in Seattle as well, although to a much lesser degree. I mention this not to besmirch the movements taking place there, but only to call out that there are mixed in these communities who welcome chaos and violence.

A fight with federal forces that draws blood would be fine with them. That they would play right into Trump’s hands is likely irrelevant to them. But they are not these communities and they are not the important stories. Keep them in mind but keep them in perspective as well.

One does have to worry that what started as a protest of injustice for Black Americans has wondered off into other things. There are other things that are surely valid for protest, but let’s keep some focus, please.

Who Else is in the Streets?

 The larger story is the rest of the protestors, who are drawn from the community at large. Many have said they have never protested anything before but feel called now. They are of all ages and from more than a narrow social/political profile. Three groups have risen in visibility that are just fascinating to contemplate.

First, there are the Moms. Women who put on bike helmets, locked arms, and marched out to form a barrier between protesters and the unmarked federal forces. This is raw courage. They seek to save their community and their children. Women and mothers have done this before around the world. Think of Northern Ireland, Argentina, Lebanon. It is a remarkable thing to witness.

Second, the Moms were joined this week by a Veterans Line. Men and women who have served this country before, stepping forward to do so again. They bring a special challenge when they confront the federal forces. These people took the same oath, to protect and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They rightly challenge those who have descended on their community. “Why are you doing this? Why are you forsaking your sacred pledge?” I have to believe this will begin to have an effect on those who agreed to show up for this misuse of force.

Late Arrivals

Not really groups I suppose, but I call them the Gardeners Brigade and the Hockey Warriors. The former has begun showing up and dispersing among the front lines. When tear gas grenades are thrown and begin to cloud the air, it turns out that gas and battery powered leaf blowers do a pretty impressive job of thinning out the cloud.

Then enter the Hockey Warriors. People show up with hockey sticks. When a gas grenade lands in the crowd, people stand aside, and the hockey stick is used to chuck the grenade back to where it came from. Goal!

Trying to Balance it All

This is, to put it mildly, a sporty time to be a local government official or a law enforcement officer. They are trying to lead and keep up with multiple constituencies as much as possible. They are trying to protect freedom of speech while assuring public safety and protecting property.

In such an environment, local and state officials would normally seek support and partnerships with the federal government. Today, the federal government is a major part of the problem, even an opposing force.  In Washington, they are being trashed by the leadership. In the streets, unidentified forces that so far have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding in dealing with civil unrest.

And Then There are The Federal Gangs Roaming the Streets

Have you seen the film clip of the Navy veteran who asked them if they had forgotten their pledge? He was repeatedly beaten and maced at point blank range. Did you see the Moms who peacefully stood their ground and were clubbed, and tear gassed? Did you see the people whisked away in unmarked cars? Many report that they were never told who held them or what the charge was. In some cases, there is no record of the arrest ever happening. In other cases, there are records, including obscenely blown up federal charges that carry long sentences.

This is wrong on so many levels. Trump clearly saw this as a useful diversion for his election campaign. There was no civil government justification for this deployment. It has gone badly enough already that one can hope future deployments threatened (all in Democratic zones – must be a coincidence….) will be rethought. Hats off to the DA in Philadelphia who has made it known he will charge any such deployed personnel with crimes such as kidnapping if they break the law in his city.

Got That?

 So, there is our lineup. At least as of today. Keep track.

There are some demonstrators looking for trouble, but not most. Thousands of people are in the streets for the right reasons. New alignments and tactics are being developed on the fly – their effects will be lasting. Most will be for the good.

Local officials and law enforcement are trying to do the right thing in tough circumstances. Not all agree among themselves about how best to proceed. The police union seems in particular out of synch with the local government’s efforts to resist federal intervention. Yet another indicator that it is likely time to relook the role and mission of police unions.

The federal government is a lawless giant in this one. The forces that have deployed under these federal directions should not be there. Time for individual members of these forces to stand up for what they know is right and refuse their orders. I do not say this lightly. As a career soldier I always knew there might come a time when I would have to refuse an order and pay a price. I am grateful that day never came for me. I am sorry it has come for this force.

But come it has. No one gets a pass. You are in or out. Those that choose to go along should know they are subject to prosecution in due course. They are hurting our country and attacking fellow Americans. I would be ashamed to be part of such a force. All being done at the behest of Donald Trump, Bill Barr, and the latest Acting Director of Homeland Security.

This Too Shall Pass – Maybe. Its Up to Us

When all this is over (starting the close out on Nov 3, in 98 days please), we need to add this set of events to the postmortem of what we will clean up and work to minimize the risk of such excess happening again.

Say it with me: “Not on our watch.”

                   Bill Clontz

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