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Protests in Portland grow to ‘many thousands’ as police and federal forces converge in the city

Correction: The headline for this story has been changed to accurately reflect the nature of protests and the government response, and to no longer reference a quoted portion of the interview that was cut from broadcast. PBS NewsHour Weekend regrets this error.

The Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd continue to gain momentum in Portland, Oregon, where protesters have clashed with the police sparking another wave of demonstrations against systemic racism and police brutality across the country. Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting joins Hari Sreenivasan for the latest from Portland.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For more on the recent wave of protests, I'm joined now by Jonathan Levinson of Oregon Public Broadcasting.

    Since your story a couple of weeks ago about federal officials taking people in unmarked vans, we've seen a huge increase in the number of protests. What's been the significant driver in the last few days?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Around July 4th, we saw federal officers start playing a much bigger role, clearing protesters from from around the courthouse and from city streets. And in the past week or so, since they have really taken this taking on the spotlight, we have seen protests go from in the low hundreds to in, you know, in last night, the many thousands.

    It's been a dramatic increase of mobilization across the city, really a broad cross-section. The Wall of Moms obviously gotten a lot of news. There's now a Wall of Vets there is increased presence from Black activists in the city. It's just been a reenergized movement across the board.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And yesterday, we also saw Portland police, which we haven't seen in a few weeks.

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Ever since the focus of the protests shifted across the street from the Multnomah County Justice Center to the federal courthouse, the federal law enforcement has been playing a much more active role in dealing with the protests, and that just depends on the dynamic of the protests that night.

    What the crowds doing if if the Portland police end up getting involved or not. And last night was one of those nights where they did. Oftentimes they end up clearing the streets right alongside federal law enforcement, which, they say they aren't coordinating or operating together, but the reality on the ground is that it appears they absolutely are.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What is galvanizing more people to show up in the streets of Portland?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    I don't think the focus has ever shifted away from racial justice and Black Lives Matter with a particular emphasis on defunding the police, towards that end. I think in the past few days, one thing that has changed and what a couple of people told me was that now there's this added layer, this fear that the fundamental right to protest is in peril and that that has has galvanized people and brought them out in higher numbers.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    If I watch social media feeds and videos, you can see protesters being attacked or mistreated by authorities. And then if you turn on Fox News, you see something else. What have you witnessed personally?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Every night there's people that they throw water bottles over the fence or buildings have been vandalized. Graffiti. I think it's debatable if vandalizing a building or throwing a water bottle is violence, particularly violence that warrants the level of violence we have seen in response. Enormous amounts of tear gas and impact munitions. And so I think the criticism is that this is this is a disproportionate response against predominantly nonviolent protesters.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    But what are the local and state officials doing to try to diffuse the situation, if that's possible?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    I don't know. I don't know what they're doing. But I have spoken to them in the past. The response is often we need the community to speak up and say that they don't want this. This isn't what they want in their city. And the city seems to be speaking up. They are displeased with the way law enforcement is managing these protests.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Even the mayor says a lot of people hate my guts, but we're kind of unified at this moment and feeling like this is not the response that's helpful.

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    About an hour after the mayor left, after being tear gassed by federal law enforcement officers, the Portland police threatened to use crowd control, munitions, and tear gas to disperse that crowd. The tactics you're seeing from federal law enforcement, the response to the protesters is very similar to what the Portland police have been doing from day one.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Do you see any kind of way forward?

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    The protests, the protesters have been clear from the beginning. They were pretty clear cut demands that were pretty detailed as well. Fifty million dollars pulled from the police budget and redistributed into the community. And that has largely not been addressed.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jonathan Levinson contributed to Oregon Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Jonathan Levinson:

    Thank you for having me.

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