Amidst all the chaos of COVID and studying, freshman and psychology major Rhiannon Harris is putting herself in Portland chaos to stand up to injustice. Portland has passed its 150th day of protesting the police and police brutality, and shows no signs of letting up. The exact thing the protesters are there to oppose, the police are proving to be correct. The dangers of protesting range from being maced, tackled and arrested, to being beaten by the riot police.
Harris said when preparing to go to a protest she tries to find the largest protest because there is safety in numbers. Oftentimes, the smaller protests have less press and medical personnel and the protestors are outnumbered by the police.
“[An instance] of safety in numbers is where a police officer tackles you and another protester pulls you back up,” said Harris.
Protesters want to keep everyone safe and look out for each other. Police do not care what you are doing or what age you are, if they decide to start inciting violence and arresting people you need to be prepared.
“One time I got maced and it got on my arm, and I had so much mace on my arm that it was dripping,” said Harris. She continued to describe that “later that night I had to prop my arm up because it felt like it was on fire.”
Being gassed or maced can be extremely painful and have serious health repercussions, so making sure you are prepared at a protest is essential. To stay safe once she has arrived at a protest, Harris has learned to bring a bag of items she may need later in the night so she can be prepared for any situation. Her basic equipment usually consists of a helmet, goggles, respirator, multiple layers of clothing for if they get maced or gassed, a medical kit, food, and saline or a bandana to wet and put on their eyes if saline is not available. Many protesters also write two phone numbers on their arms. The first is of the National Lawyers Guild for when you are in jail, who are specifically designed to help protesters; the second is for a lawyer for anytime a protester has not been arrested. Harris clarified that most protesters aren’t charged with anything, but this doesn’t take away the fear of being arrested and abused by cops.
Despite being extremely prepared, many protesters are not doctors or medical personnel so having those people at protests is important.
“Oftentimes we just stick with the medics.” said Harris. “The medics and the press is usually the safest place to be, not necessarily because the cops don’t arrest the medics and press but because they can help you out.”
Protests can become chaotic very quickly. Harris said that 90% of the protests she attends become violent. This attests to how passionate Harris is to bring light to police brutality.
“The major reason we are protesting is to show the world what the police are capable of doing, and what their racial bias is,” said Harris.
Harris, as many other people, began attending protests after George Floyd was murdered by the police. Although George Floyd was the catalyst for many protests this year, police brutality and bias against Black people has been a horrible reality throughout this country’s history. Police have not been held accountable for their actions and these protests show that the American people will not tolerate this. Throughout U.S. history, protests both large and small have proven to create change. Desegregation and women’s rights policies have been started by protests of the people, but change is not a one time occurrence. We need to keep making progress and demanding more from the systems who claim they want to protect the people. We cannot settle for a system that discriminates against Black people.
“I think protests have been pretty successful because for the first time in forever we had something on the ballot in Oregon to cut like 8 million dollars from the police budget,” said Harris. “Unfortunately it didn’t pass, but that is progress.” — Marissa Liao
Photo: An American flag burns in the street of a Portland protest (Rhiannon Harris)