Making Pinochet Proud: The Peaceful Exercise of Free Speech
Photos by Fedor Zarkhin/ The Oregonian/OregonLive. Front photo by Doug Brown/Portland Mercury
Amidst escalating anti-immigrant rhetoric by a country sorrowfully intent on betraying its own heritage, police in Portland, Ore. didn't just arrest peaceful protesters chained together to oppose deportations; first, bizarrely, they shrouded them in Gitmo-like hoods and headphones. The demonstration, organized by End Deportations Now and held at Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, sought to block a bus taking undocumented immigrants to a Tacoma detention center. It came two weeks after a four-day ICE sweep - which officials unironically dubbed "Operation Safe City” - in Portland and several other sanctuary cities, including Baltimore, New York, L.A. and D.C, that have challenged new federally mandated ICE access to local jails. Almost 500 people were arrested in the raids; activists say, "If it’s one or a dozen, it’s too many.”
The goal of Wednesday's action in what is supposed to be a safe city sought was "to shine a light on this vicious practice of deportations (happening) nearly every day.” Among protesters forming a human chain in front of the building, which serves as an ICE detention center, were five who had bound their arms together under bulky tubes of duct tape that read "STOP THE DEPORTATIONS." As Federal Protective Services officers began the arrests - with the crowd chanting "This is what community looks like" - police moved to cover the linked protesters with flame-retardant hoods and sound-muffling headsets.
They later explained the five had chained themselves together with "sleeping dragons" under the tape - mechanisms often made of metal pipe, chicken wire or steel bolts, but in this case plastic pipe - that they thought they would have to cut off with power tools. Evidently, belatedly aware of the hazardous optics involved with encasing peaceful and often older protesters in what looked like Pinochet-era sensory deprivation suits, they said they had placed "protective attire" on the protesters "to ensure their safety" from sparks or noises during the cutting process.
Okay then. Except, as the National Lawyers' Guild and other horrified observers noted, they only used handsaws and pliers. And if they wanted to protect people's eyes, safety goggles - which you can see through - cost 79 cents a pop. And anyone with respiratory issues could have died. And what it in fact looked like to many people was a sinister "humiliation ritual," or a public execution in Saudi Arabia, or a random macho exercise of police state power that was "way too fucking weird and out of bounds." Later, a statement from police declared, “The Federal Protective Service is (sic) works to balance the peaceful exercise of free speech while ensuring employees and the business of the Federal Government can continue." So, not to worry.