On Sept. 5, officers from the Portland Police Bureau and Oregon State Police clashed with about 400 protesters in the Mill Park neighborhood of outer Southeast Portland.
Kari Koch, a city of Portland employee, lives in that neighborhood. This is her story.
Saturday night the police invaded my East Portland neighborhood. They parked a riot truck in front of my home with a dozen militarized, rifle-armed men holding court on the street. They walked around with guns at the ready. I stood on my porch in my pajamas watching them, worried that they might use some excuse to unload their rage and my family would be in the way.
My partner, a brown man, comes out to see the fuss. He asks me if he should say something to them. I’m immediately terrified and decide it’s time to say something.
In this moment, imagine what you might say if someone tells you they don’t feel safe with you. Maybe you would apologize, make excuses, actually leave.
I shout the 20 feet down to the street that they should leave, that we don’t want them here, that we don’t feel safe when they are around—they are unsafe, unpredictable, unaccountable. Leave, now.
These men decided instead to threaten us. They yelled at us to get outta here (our home, OK?!?). They bandied their massive guns around while shouting that this was their street, they don’t work for me, and that they would take note of our address to make sure and not respond if something bad happens.
When a man dressed in military gear, holding a rifle and surrounded by a group of the same looks directly at you and says, “I hope nothing bad happens to you or your house,” it makes you think that something bad will definitely happen and that that person will make sure of it. Not safe, very creepy.
Then they hop on the riot truck and drive away. Shouting in a cacophony as they leave.
This is not surprising. Intimidation and fear are core tactics of law enforcement and we are in this current situation because they kill with total impunity. So, them yelling at a white lady on her porch is pretty low on their list of offenses. Still, it was very unsettling and totally unaccountable. They should not be murdering black and brown people, they should not be attacking protestors, they should not be unleashing chemical weapons, and they should not be wandering our neighborhoods threatening people.
I’m so tired of the police being in charge.
As a city employee myself, I can only imagine the trouble I would find myself in if I threaten or yelled at a community member: certainly reprimanded, maybe even fired. In fact, usually it is part of my job to deal with challenging, yelling, or upset community members and I am responsible for keeping my cool, problem solving, and making sure they feel welcome. This is not unusual in the public sector—we actually do work for the community.
But not this guys, apparently. So, this is where we are at—armed militarized force is in charge of Portland and they have no consequences.
This is why I support the protests and protestors, this is why I support abolition, this is why I support the movement for black lives and liberation and justice. This is why I totally understand why people want to burn down the police precinct and throw bags of soup that was meant for their families. Because there is no justice. No justice. My little story is the teeniest sliver of their power. The power to do whatever they want, no matter how terrible or unwelcome.
Since Kenosha’s murderous teen got the rockstar treatment from a bunch of powerful sociopaths, I’ve been feeling like we are at war. It is not a feeling that I relish. It is terrifying.
And also the protesters, the movement, is right. Things are untenable. We need a reckoning, we need things made right. While the police stand out in front of my home and threaten my family, I think about just how important the protests and the movement are. How at the core the protestors are simply saying: Stop murdering black people, stop funding this street-level military, and use that money for something more necessary and wholesome.
Yes, terrifying, armed military in my street—let’s get rid of you. Let’s do something better.
Kari Koch is a mother, gardener, public sector worker and movement supporter in East Portland.
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