‘They just started whaling on me’: Veteran speaks out after video of federal officers beating him at Portland protests goes viral

‘I stood my ground at that point and just stayed there,’ Christopher David, 53, told The Independent 

Danielle Zoellner
Monday 20 July 2020 09:50 BST
Federal officers are filmed hitting a Portland protester with batons and spraying him with pepper spray

Christopher David, a 53-year-old disabled Navy veteran, was so angry at the sight of federal officers sweeping up protesters in the last few nights on the streets of Portland, Oregon, that he decided to go and talk to them about it.

The city resident, who served more than eight years with the US Navy, got on a public bus on Saturday and headed to a protest in front of the city courthouse in the hope he could ask them some questions.

“I was enraged simply because I did not think they were taking their oath of office seriously or they were compromising their oath of office,” Mr David told The Independent. “So I actually went down because I wanted to talk to them about it.”

His advances were rebuffed, however, and he was the victim of a brutal attack that was caught on video and went viral on Sunday.

In the video, first shared by a reporter from the Portland Tribune, Mr David is seen taking a series of baton blows from a federal agent, without reacting to any of them, before he is finally forced back by pepper spray to the face.

“I stood my ground at that point and just stayed there ... I did nothing provocative. They just started whaling on me with batons, and I let them,” Mr David said.

“I probably could’ve taken a lot more baton blows if they had not sprayed pepper spray all over my eyes,” he added.

The use of federal agents to quell protests in Portland has drawn heavy criticism from local and national leaders. Federal officers from the US Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Homeland Security‘s Federal Protective Service have been deployed to Portland on orders from the Trump administration.

Their mandate was to protect federal buildings, but they have been accused of driving unmarked cars and seizing people from the street in recent days in the city, which has seen nightly protests for racial justice since the police killing of George Floyd.

Mr David detailed how the federal officers streamed out of the courthouse building Saturday night and immediately started “pushing people down in the intersection”.

“It was just chaos,” Mr David said about the moment. “That is when I wanted to walk over to them and talk to them because they were not adhering to their oath of office.”

“Were any of you enlisted? Why are you not keeping your oath of office?” Mr David shouted at the officers over the noise of the crowd.

The moment was described as chaotic from Mr David because the officers were already taking “aggressive” and “crazy” action against protesters within minutes of leaving the courthouse.

“There didn’t seem to be any design, or strategy, or plan to what they were doing,” he said. “It was bizarre. It almost looked like they were scared.”

Footage then showed Mr David standing still in front of the officers with his hands down at his side. He was carrying nothing in his hands and only had a backpack on him holding his ID and wallet.

One officer then started beating him with a baton when another sprayed pepper spray in his eyes, which encouraged the man to finally step away from the federal agents and move back towards the crowd.

The moment went viral after it was first shared on Twitter, with people calling Mr David “Captain Portland” and commending him for not moving when officers used aggressive force.

“That guy is a brick. And wow. Can’t believe that is how someone harmless-looking is treated,” one Twitter commenter wrote after viewing the footage.

Footage stopped with Mr David walking away, but that wasn’t the end for him.

A street medic named Tav, who uses the pronouns they/them, helped move the man away from the crowds because the pepper spray left him struggling to see. Then, with the assistance of friends, the medic got Mr David into an ambulance so he could be taken to the VA hospital nearby.

Although the altercation with officers was brief, the moment left the man’s hand severely damaged after one baton hit slammed right against his knuckles.

“It is pretty damaged. I am probably going to have to have surgery,” Mr David said.

It was in the emergency room when Mr David found out he’d become a viral star from his clash with federal agents.

“I exchanged phone numbers with Tav so I could call them later and thank them for rescuing me out of the park,” he detailed. Tav was the one who then called him and revealed that everyone was now referring to him as “Captain Portland” following the altercation.

“I had no freaking idea,” he added.

State and local officials have spoken out against the Trump administration for its use of federal agents to quell protests. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has called for the agents to be removed from the city, calling their use “a direct threat to democracy,” but the Trump administration hasn’t budged.

In a tweet published on Sunday, Mr Trump claimed his administration was trying to “help” Portland, not “hurt it”.

“We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal,” he wrote.

But residents like Mr David saw the administration’s response as an effort to create discontent in “any big, blue city”.

“This is just the first domino to fall,” he said. “He is trying to see how far he can push it in Portland and create some kind of model for other cities so he can stir up enough chaos and discontent to try and win the election again. All of this is just doubling down on his strategy of division and chaos.”

Mr David admitted there were protesters showing more aggressive behaviour during Saturday night’s protest, including breaking down fences outside the courthouse and placing them up against the front doors. But how federal officers responded, he said, was not justified.

“Their response is incredibly disproportionate and it is designed to incite anger, division, chaos, and riots,” he said about the federal agents. “That’s the only reason they’re here. They’re not trying to quell the city or dominate it. They’re trying to stir up chaos, because that is how Trump operates.”

Despite the injury to his hand, Mr David was considering attending another Portland protest. But now he has considered using his voice in different ways following his altercation with officers.

“I’d do it again but sometimes I have to listen to better advice from other people,” he said. “I am 53 and am not indestructible.”

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