The city of Portland has been making news headlines due to ongoing protests which have sometimes spilt over into rioting and fires. Here are some of the most common questions surrounding these events answered…
How did the protests start? Who are the Portland protesters?
A city full of passionate people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in, the city of Portland has a long history when it comes to protesting. As mentioned though some of the protests in more recent years have turned into something more different than just placard-waving.
The current goings-on started back in November of 2016, when a group of peaceful protesters took to the streets of Portland, objecting to the presidency of Donald Trump. The occasion was not very remarkable until a radical group separated from the rest of the protesters. This group of anarchists had an entirely different objective and completely different approach in achieving their goals.
The tragic death of George Floyd in the hands of police officers stirred up emotions all over the world, and Portland, Oregon was no exception. When it first started, protests over this event were mostly peaceful but as time went on, some of the protests became more chaotic.
On May 29, 2020, a massive group of protesters gathered at multiple points in Portland to rally against Floyd’s death, marching from different directions and eventually meeting at the Justice Center, where a large group of young people had occupied the steps in protest of the murder.
Shortly before midnight, the youth protesters invaded the Justice Center, starting fires inside the building. In response, the Portland Police Bureau dispersed the crowd by throwing tear gas grenades towards them. They did scatter and left the Justice Center, but only to cause havoc in several parts of town. They set banks on fire and destroyed shops.
State of Emergency
The day after the riots ensued, Portland mayor Ted Wheeler declared a state of emergency and implemented a strict 8 pm curfew all over the city. More than a thousand people gathered in front of the Justice Center again, and laid down right at the intersection of 2nd Street and Main Street. The police removed the activists from the intersection and positioned themselves in the spot. However, the protesters were not deterred and continued to approach the police to lie down on the street. That’s when it spilled over into something more violent.
The police got physical with the crowd, hitting several people with their batons and charging forcefully into the group. Some police officers were even seen striking at civilians with their bare fists. Following this, the police started throwing tear gas as none of the protesters seemed to be willing to cooperate.
The next few days were filled with tension. People kept protesting, without regard for the curfew. Because of the sheer size of the crowd, the police had no choice but to just watch and stay back. The activists stated various demands of the police but the officers were unperturbed. These stand-offs lasted for hours at a time, with neither side wanting to give up their ground.
100 Days of Riots
In 2020, the once attractive and peaceful city had suffered through over 100 straight days of riots that left much of Downtown in utter disarray. It was at this point that people started seriously worrying about the future of Portland.
Vandalism, looting and arson became quite commonplace and it just kept getting worse with each day. The first weekend of riots was just the beginning. Similar rallies took place in the following days but the protesters began to be clearly more divided into two main groups. The more peaceful demonstrators eventually became known as the Rose City Justice organization. Their protests were moderate and they did not confront police offers but they quickly diminished.
On the other hand, the more active and more violent protestors even grew in number. Every day, this group gathered by the fence that surrounds the Justice Center and Courthouse. Right from the start, violence was the common denominator of all the group’s protests. Police ultimately responded with the use of tear gas grenades in astonishingly large amounts. These grenades even hit some unsuspecting motorists, who filed lawsuits against the police.
Economic damage and low morale
It seemed the actions of a few ruined things for so many. With all the rioting that took place, Portland businesses suffered massive damage amounting to over $23 million. Practically all of this was concentrated in Downtown which, according to local residents, has become unappealing and riskier to live in.
Morale was at a low and more than 600 Portland residents that were asked about what they can say about Portland in, almost everyone used the words negative words to describe it at that time. More than half of those surveyed have not been Downtown since the pandemic.
Local leaders attribute the majority of the current riot issues to the pandemic. The difficulties that people have had to face during the last two years have further fueled their ire and sparked a greater desire to go on with the riots.
Furthermore, a significant drop in the police budget essentially gave more freedom to the rioters. With the police force curtailed and rendered powerless to stop the violence, the protestors kept going. This budget cut inadvertently led to the resignation of more than 260 police officers in the city.
Where Are the Riots in Portland?
Most of the riots in Portland took place in Downtown of the city, but there are also some other areas that were also gravely affected and suffered from serious damage.
As can be seen in the maps of the Portland riots, a significant portion of the damages were focused on the Opportunity Zones. A lot of this was made up of law enforcement buildings, which were the primary target of the violent protesters.
Aside from Downtown, the other areas that were largely affected by the riots were the East Bank, the East Precinct, North Portland, and North Central Portland.
But the very important questions remain for those thinking of moving to this Oregon city – is Portland still rioting today? Or is it a safe city now?
Is Portland Rioting Now?
Today, the riots are not as out of control as they were in the last two years, but there are still some of them going on. They are supposedly acts of protest against social injustice and racial inequality, which have been issues for centuries, not only in Portland but in many other parts of the world.
However, they have evolved into more acts of violence than regular protests. Hundreds of people have suffered, jobs have been lost, properties have been damaged and there is still no sign that these protests are going to stop completely soon, as even the government seems to have given up on trying to control the ruckus.
When the government reduced police funding in 2020 by $15 million, and also passed a law prohibiting police officers from using tear gas and other similar tools for crowd dispersion, this just made things easier for the rioters. Since it was practically uncontrolled, violence in the city just got worse and quite unbelievably, it was the local government that largely let it happen. However, the worst areas are now isolated today and riots have diminished considerably.
Is Portland Safe?
Admittedly, the riots of previous years have shaken up the city and its residents but there are still several parts of Portland that are very safe. On average, Portland has a crime rate of 39.6 for every 1000 residents.
If you are in the metro area of this city, your risk of becoming a victim of a crime is one in 12 in downtown and other main neighborhoods. It is much safer to stay in the south part of the city, where the risks of becoming a crime victim are much lower at only 1 in 48.
If you want to stay in the safest neighborhoods in the city, you might want to check out Mt. Tabor, Woodstock, Hawthorne, and Alberta. These are some really nice locations where the crime rate is very low and you can feel really safe. On the other hand, you might want to avoid some of the more risky neighborhoods like Rockwood, Lents and the Jade District, as well as the inner city. These aren’t extremely dangerous neighborhoods but they just have a higher crime rate than the other parts of the city.
Instead of the violent riots that have beleaguered the city in the last two years, the crimes that are the most prevalent now have to do with vehicle break-ins and car theft.
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Scott started his travelling life back in 1999, when he headed off on a solo jaunt to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia with just a backpack, a camera and a spirit for adventure. After that, the travel bug bit hard and now he is always seeking to head off somewhere new. Over the years he has lived in Italy, Qatar, Ireland, UK and the US but his spiritual home will always be Rome as this is the city which most satisfies his unrelenting craving for culture, good food and great football. Scott loves nothing better than to be behind the camera and also runs his own blog and Instagram page. He also counts Melbourne, Cape Town and Tel Aviv among his favourite places. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @scottbalaam