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In Portland, protests and violence continue — 3 months after they began

In Oregon, the city of Portland continues to endure upheaval and violence, three months after the killing of George Floyd sparked unrest. Now, the Wisconsin shooting of Jacob Blake, who is Black, has further ignited public outrage over police use of force and racial injustice. John Yang talks to Oregon Public Broadcasting's Jonathan Levinson about the ongoing dynamics and chance for a solution.

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  • John Yang:

    And in Portland, Oregon, Jacob Blake's shooting has added fuel to nightly protests that began nearly three months ago in response to the killing of George Floyd.

    Jonathan Levinson is a reporter for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He joins us from Portland

    Jonathan, thanks for being with us.

    You heard Gina Barton talk about the dynamic in Milwaukee, how the protests begin peaceful, but then you — as the night goes on, there are these clashes and vandalism.

    You have been on the streets for these last three months in Portland. Help us understand the dynamic there.

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Yes, there was times over the past 90 days now where we have seen a similar dynamic, where, early in the day, or early evening, there's speeches, and it's a little more tame crowd, and then, later in the evening, it gets a little more confrontational.

    And I don't know if it's a different group that shows up to join in the fray. I think there is an intention behind some of these groups. They want to draw the police out. They want to highlight the violence of policing.

    And so they will do things like throw water bottles or eggs or balloons full of paint, certainly annoying, and the police respond with bull rushes and batons and impact ignitions and tear gas, and just really violence.

    And — sorry?

  • John Yang:

    Yes, I'm sorry. Why don't you finish your thought?

    Actually, let me pick it up there, Jonathan.

    Given this has been going on three months now, does it seem to you that the city leaders, the mayor, Ted Wheeler, who spoke to one of your colleagues, has any sense of how to get this under control, how to balance protecting free amendment — First Amendment, rather, rights of peaceful protests and preventing the violence and vandalism and destruction?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    It certainly doesn't seem like it.

    Early on, the city council and the mayor pulled somebody from the police bureau and reinvested in the community. That didn't work. And since then, we haven't seen a lot from political leaders. It's been sort of on the police every night to — again, to manage these crowds.

    And if you talk to the police, they say, look, there's only so much we can do. There's only so many tactics we have. At some point, we need policy leaders to step in and lead through policy. And they're not doing that.

  • John Yang:

    You know, there was an argument when the federal agents came in that, if they left, everything would calm down. The governor said that. The state attorney general said that. They did pull back. Things did calm down for a little while, but now things have picked up again.

    How do you explain that?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    I don't know if anyone really ever bought into that narrative, except for the mayor and the governor and them.

    The protests have been going on, I think it was like 30, 40 days when the federal law enforcement showed up. And as soon as they left, the protesters just returned to their focus to local law enforcement, which it had been from the beginning.

    So, I don't think there was ever any expectation from most people that suddenly the protests would just peter out.

  • John Yang:

    Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting, thanks so much.

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Thank you.

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