In the United States, Portland is considered a “bobo” stronghold, where everyone rides their bikes, drinks natural juices and eats vegan. Since the death of George Floyd, the African American killed by a white police officer in late May in Minneapolis, she has also become in the eyes of the country the epicenter of anti-racist Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests.
Daily protests in Portland
In the city center, largely barricaded to guard against overflows, “BLM” posters and graffiti are omnipresent and demonstrations are daily. Sometimes they are marked by clashes with the police. Scenes of marginal violence that the right is quick to use to show what would become of America under democratic rule. In the conservative media galaxy, Portland is thus portrayed as chaotic and delivered to “anarchists” and “antifa”, the far left nebula that Donald Trump describes as a terrorist organization and which is present in the night processions.
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Eager to assert himself as the president of “law and order”, the tenant of the White House dispatched federal agents there in July without the approval of the governor of Oregon or the mayor. of the city, both Democrats, to protect a federal court in the city center. These paramilitary forces, which do not wear identification badges, were withdrawn following clashes with demonstrators, not without having galvanized the declining movement.
“It took it from several hundred to several thousand people. We still feel the momentum ”, notes a young white demonstrator met at a march, Thursday, September 9. He did not wish to give his name for fear of reprisals.
Oregon’s racist past
Shaped by the hit series “Portlandia” which plays out on its progressive and alternative side, Portland is seen as a “left bubble” in a state – Oregon – with a controversial racial past. Until 1926, its constitution prohibited the installation of blacks and non-white people on its territory. Today, 87% of the state’s population is white (2% is black), making Oregon one of the whitest places in the United States.
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“The founders of Oregon saw the country torn apart during the Civil War and didn’t want the trouble of having black people. Oregon was a white utopia “, Summarizes Shirley Jackson, professor at Portland State University.
Portland is not immune to criticism. With 77% white and only 5.8% black, it is the whitest American large city in the country. Given its reputation, the city has also attracted far-right groups for decades, active in conservative and rural regions on the outskirts. At the end of August, the arrival of one of these groups, Patriot Prayer, equipped with “paintballs” used on demonstrators, ended in blood, when one of its members was killed by a man claiming to be from the Antifa movement. , whose presence in Portland is ancient and well known. The episode further fueled the Trumpist discourse on a city that had fallen into anarchy.
“These completely opposite groups are fighting for the same small space, summarizes Shirley Jackson. A tragedy had to happen. I’m even surprised it didn’t happen before ”.
Despite Trumpist rhetoric, violence and damage to buildings remains rare and marginal. In addition, many demonstrations have been called off in recent days due to major fires in the region, which have draped the city in a veil of toxic smoke.
“There’s a lot of hype about the situation here. The city is not upside down. Vandalism is not widespreadinsists Isabella Campbell, a 19-year-old BLM protester. And attacking buildings is not the same as attacking individuals ”.
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