PORTLAND, ORE. — The two cops standing guard outside the Portland Police Bureau look tired. It’s the 54th consecutive night of the city’s Black Lives Matter protests, and the street-festival-cum-revolution in the small park outside the Oregon federal courthouse has gone largely unmolested by local law enforcement. “The courthouse is basically theirs for most of the day,” one officer admits. “We don’t really move in until they start setting fires.”
The fires don’t start until later in the night. The tone of the daytime occupation is cheerful: The air is thick with the stench of marijuana, and well-dressed college students mingle with septuagenarian ex-hippies sporting tie-dye Bernie shirts, suburban moms, grungy teens, wild-eyed bums and professional activists from the city’s many protest outfits.
An entrepreneurial duo has set up a stand in the middle of the street selling Black Lives Matter shirts and face masks, and another vendor down the way is marketing vegan kebabs. A woman weaves through the crowd handing out water bottles, earplugs and other protest essentials, singing along to the rhythmic bass line of a hip-hop song emanating from a set of speakers on the park’s southeast end (the lyrics are unambiguous: “Cop shot, cop shot, cop shot, cop shot, / Keep shooting my people, / We will shoot back”).
Cops, for their part, are nowhere to be seen; an organizer helping to block off car access to the four-block protest zone tells me that they usually don’t move in until around midnight.
Nate Hochman is a rising senior at Colorado College. This piece was adapted from City Journal.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images