Portland police arrested and pepper-sprayed protesters who were marching against austerity measures on Saturday. The police, dressed in riot gear with several officers on horseback, tackled and sprayed several demonstrators who were carrying signs.
Around 300 protesters of the Portland Action Lab, an offshoot of the city’s Occupy movement, had gathered in the Lloyd District to march on issues ranging from healthcare reform to military spending to public education. The protesters had not acquired a permit to march and some did not know the route, which led to a confrontation with police.
While police insist they only used pepper spray after being confronted by people with wooden shields, protesters who witnessed the incident say it happened suddenly after several high school students tried to push through and continue the march.
“It was really crazy how the police started spraying everybody,” 31-year-old Meredith Reese of the Portland Action Lab told The Oregonian, describing how at least five people dropped to the ground after being targeted.
“I think the police targeted people based on what they were wearing and their signs,” she added. One of the victims was Cameron Whitten, an Occupy Portland protester who has long advocated for better homeless policies.
Most of the protesters had marched peacefully and the event was meant to be family-friendly, Reese said. “Enough is enough,” was the slogan that the crowd chose to chant throughout the day. With flags, signs and whistles, they represented “the 99 percent” and increased social services.
“It’s another effort to get that energy organized,” 29-year-old Nicholas Caleb said of the rally. “People oppose the status quo. Occupy was one of those and there will be many more.”
Now angered by the violent police reaction to their march, the Portland Action Lab will meet again on Wednesday to discuss ways to mitigate police officers’ use of force.
“We keep running into this realization that the police are going to use force on us whenever we’re in the streets,” Caleb said.
“They’re using riot police when there isn’t a riot going on. People get bum rushed by cops in paramilitary fashion and hog tied,” he added.