On the long timeline of racial justice protests in Portland, July 1 was a lifetime ago.
Protesters had settled into a nightly routine at the Multnomah County Justice Center. The fencing around the building had just come down. The iconic elk statue still stood watch above Lownsdale and Chapman Squares, offering a comfortable late-night perch for many protesters.
Then federal law enforcement officers began appearing at the daily protests.
At first, activists viewed the agents as a minor nuisance compared to officers from the Portland Police Bureau, who for many nights before had used impact munitions and tear gas to drive demonstrators away from the building that houses the county jail and out of downtown Portland.
Sent there by President Donald Trump, the federal officers’ stated goal was to protect federal buildings from damage and keep federal personnel safe. But by July 4, that mission shifted as federal officers cleared demonstrators blocks away from federal property. Over the next two weeks, their tactics became increasingly aggressive. They hospitalized at least one person and grabbed others off Portland streets and into unmarked vehicles.
Only after that last tactic gathered national headlines would the country take notice and ask: Was Portland really a “city under siege,” as acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf described it? Protesters and journalists who regularly showed up at the nightly demonstrations agreed a siege was happening — but over 14 days, federal law enforcement increasingly became the occupying force.