Portland protests: Mothers form human barricades to protect activists from federal forces

Women chanted 'Feds stay clear! Moms are here!' as law enforcement used tear gas and flash-bang grenades to disperse demonstrations

Andrew Naughtie
Monday 20 July 2020 21:09 BST
Portland mothers form human barricades to protect activists from federal forces

A group of mothers in Portland has been intervening at demonstrations over the weekend to protect protesters from uniformed federal officers who have been sent to the city to impose “law and order”.

Standing in line with elbows linked, many of them wearing bicycle helmets, some of the mothers chanted “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” as they blocked streets near the city’s federal courthouse, which has become a flashpoint of the conflict between protesters and the authorities.

The mothers’ protest was first organised as an event named “Wall of Moms”, started on Facebook by 35-year-old local mother Bev Barnum. Describing her experience of the groups’ first action, she explained what it was like to see the protests from the front line.

“We tried in earnest to give the kids a break by shifting the pervasive narrative that protestors are rioters ...

“To be clear, we moms weren’t armed, throwing rocks, throwing water...THAT DIDN’T HAPPEN.

“We were gassed for chanting ‘Leave The Kids Alone.’

“I want you to think about what’s happening in this country and ask yourself how you’re going to help change it.”

Portland has seen almost seven weeks of mass demonstrations against police brutality and racism. First sparked by the killing of George Floyd, the protests have taken on a life of their own, as protesters and police continue to clash over the latter’s treatment of peaceful demonstrators as well as people of colour.

Even before federal law enforcement was sent in, violence had flared up on numerous occasions, and property and buildings have been damaged across the city centre. The Portland Police Bureau was even served with a temporary restraining order banning it from arresting journalists and legal observers.

Things have since escalated, however, with the arrival of law enforcement officers deputised by the federal government. Wearing camouflage and no identification, they have been seen apprehending protesters and driving them away in unmarked vans, then detaining them without charge and even without explanation.

They have also fired tear gas and “less lethal” munitions at groups of protesters, as well as openly beating people and pepper spraying them at close range.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler is demanding that the federal troops leave his city, blaming them for escalating the situation and insisting that they had not been called in by local authorities.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, framed the situation differently in a Fox News interview on Sunday. “If you look at what’s gone on in Portland,” he said, “[the protesters] are anarchists and we’ve taken a very tough stand. If we didn’t take a stand in Portland, you know we’ve arrested many of these leaders. If we didn’t take that stand ... they were going to lose Portland.”

The sight of federal forces clearing protesters from the streets of an American city without clear accountability has already been turned into a campaign ad by the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, who released a clip this weekend warning that Trump administration government is increasingly showing signs of authoritarianism – under the title “Portland is how it starts”.

Sharing a video in which federal officers in Portland shove a woman to the ground for chalking a message on the sidewalk, Ms Barnum wrote on Facebook: “And this is why we won’t stop showing up. #WallofMoms”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in