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The Empire Strikes Back

Portland's progressive community was starting to think things had really changed. Clashes with police were happening less often. The police had even stopped appearing at demonstrations without their "robo-cop" gear. Then came August. What happened?

By Dave Mazza
The big change happened on Aug. 12. On that day, Portland police officers ambushed a group of cyclists on their way to a dock worker rally. The incident was the first in some time where the police used excessive force.

Then came Aug. 22, the Bush protest where the police exhibited a level of violence not seen in over two years. Armor-clad police used pepper spray indiscriminately on protesters and bystanders, including children and journalists. Despite statements by the police indicating a high level of confusion among the various units, Mayor Katz stood by her officers, saying officers in the field had to make tough calls.

A week later, the police were at it again, going after participants in a Critical Mass ride. As participant Gary McDonald described it, motorcycle officers and back-up officers on the scene seemed intent on using as much physical force as possible even though no one was resisting.

"They were forcing one bicylist to the ground - I thought they'd dislocated his shoulder," McDonald stated. "When the officers continued twist the bicyclist's arm, I called out 'you're torturing him,' but they didn't stop."

Other witnesses to the Aug. 30 incident stated that officers used tasers on several victims.

Police actions were not limited to downtown protesters or bicyclists. August and September also saw the heat turned up on forest activists engaged in direct action. In early August the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force held a press conference to announce their arrest of three "eco-terrorists" allegedly connected with the burning of logging trucks owned by a company preparing to log ancient forests. The list of charges, which included arson, could add up to over 80 years in prison for each activist.

Similar pressure was being applied to members of Cascadia Forest Alliance engaged in fighting the Borg and S

Keeping the Rabble in Line

The last two months of the summer of 2002 saw Mayor Katz make several moves to tighten down the lid on dissent in Portland. Three specific acts by the mayor, one without council input, expanded police powers in the city while reducing the ability of activists and victims of repression to organize and fight back.
Title 14: Sit-Lie Ordinance
This section of the city code governs the use of public space. "Clarifi-cations" by the city attorney created a number of new criminal offenses, including the "sit-lie" ordinance. Police could cite and arrest anyone standing, sitting or lying on a public right of way if it causes pedestrians to move around or avoid the obstacle. The mayor, wishing to avoid a council vote (and noisy hearing), is relying on new enforcement guidelines to create a de facto sit-lie ordinance. Aiimed at the homeless, the ordinance was recently used against forest activists protesting outside Sen. Wyden's office.
Renewing the PJTTF
In a 4-0 vote, the City Council followed the mayor's lead and approved renewal of the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force. In the past two months the PJTTF has cracked down on forest activists and made arrests Portland's Muslim community. The PJTTF is beyond the reach of local oversight since all members are acting as federal agents. In an effort to satisfy police accountability activists, the mayor pointed out that Senator Wyden does have the authority to review files and that she would like to explore the possibility of obtaining the clearance necessary to review PJTTF files.
Renewing drug-free zones
As we go to press, the City Council is hold ing hearings on new drug-free zones. Civil rights activists say the new zones will continue to repress communities of color while ignoring drug use in white neighborhoods.

olo timber sales. Several activists have been told they will soon be arrested on various criminal charges, including interference with an agricultural operation. Well-known activist Mike D. was arrested on old warrants. Sentenced to 60 days in Washington County, Mike D. will be transferred to Clackamas and Multnomah Counties in the coming months to stand trial on charges of violating the terms of his probation, keeping him out of circulation.

Reaching beyond the usual suspects, the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force also arrested a well-respected Somali imam, claiming he was carrying false identification and that traces of TNT was found on his luggage. The forensics evidence has evaporated - no TNT.

This embarrassment, as well as the questionable earlier arrests of activists in connection with the torched logging trucks, did not stop the police from securing the renewal of the terrorism task force. Although the mayor was forced to endure jeers and hisses during the hearing on Sept. 19, the council quickly approved by unanimous vote the renewal of the task force for another year (passed once again as an emergency ordinance requiring no second reading).

The approval of the task force followed the earlier approval of the new rules of enforcement of the so-called "sit-lie" ordinance that would enable police to arrest anyone who created an obstacle on a public sidewalk. While the homeless are the most immediate target of the new rules, forest activists were threatened with arrest under the "sit-lie" ordinance during a protest in northeast Portland in front of a bank connected to the timber sales Cascadia Forest Alliance is attempting to halt.

As this issue goes to press, revised drug exemption zones are also being discussed by the council. Hitting communities of color hardest since the zones encompass most of those communities' turf, the exemption zones hold the potential to disrupt households of young activists.

The return of aggressive, militarized policing is not taking place without a protest. The National Lawyers Guild is organizing a class action suit in response to the Bush protests (see page 3). Two recent public hearings by the Citizen Review Committee of the Independent Police Review Division drew crowds angry at police misconduct during recent protests.

But lawsuits and angry crowds do not seem to be having an impact on police conduct. Plans are moving forward for the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force to be used more widely. The police have also initiated conversations with other jurisdictions about the creation of a multi-jurisdictional agency or coalition that would focus on crimes like identity theft, involving more intrusions into our privacy.

Whether Portland has turned a corner remains to be seen. The Police Accountability Campaign and the NAACP are organizing an Oct. 19 march as part of a national day of action against police misconduct. Organizers hope to turn out more than the usual suspects and are doing outreach to families along the march route. With appeals to City Hall being recognized as useless by a growing number of activists who have watched the mayor, ignore the system, there's a growing sense that change will only come from the streets - the very place Katz and Kroeker believes justifies their new policing.

Who walks away from this collision is anybody's guess.

Dave Mazza is editor of The Portland Alliance.

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