Tag Archives: Portland

I Guess It Can Happen Here–In Fact, It’s Beginning

The reports from Portland have been more than frightening.

Armed men in unmarked camouflage uniforms have been jumping out of unmarked vans and arresting–kidnapping might be a more accurate word–peaceful protesters.  Thus far, they have subsequently been letting them go, but only after a demonstration evidently intended to terrify and disorient.

Trump insists that he is sending “troops” to Portland to “help” local officials quell violence. Presumably, he is signaling to his cultish base that he’s a “strong leader”able to take on (nonexistent) violence in America’s cities, perpetrated by “those people”–and not so incidentally, distracting from the mounting death toll caused by his mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There has been considerable blowback.

Local officials insist that they can handle any incidents arising from the protests–and note that the activities were subsiding until the appearance of these storm troopers. Portland’s mayor has demanded that he withdraw these forces, evidently part of Homeland Security. The Governor of Oregon has demanded that he withdraw them. The Oregon Attorney General and the ACLU have sued. 

The House Judiciary Committee issued a statement questioning the legal basis for this use of force.

Frankly, it is not at all clear that the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary are authorized to deploy federal law enforcement officers in this manner. The Attorney General of the United States does not have unfettered authority to direct thousands of federal law enforcement personnel to arrest and detain American citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The Acting Secretary appears to be relying on an ill-conceived executive order meant to protect historic statues and monuments as justification for arresting American citizens in the dead of night. The Administration’s insistence on deploying these forces over the objections of state and local authorities suggest that these tactics have little to do with public safety, but more to do with political gamesmanship.

The blowback has even included self-identified moms, wearing yellow shirts, helmets and masks. Reportedly, several hundred women, calling themselves the Wall of Moms, formed chains between the officers and the protesters. 

This resistance–and the very negative press coverage–has evidently not deterred the administration. According to Huffington Post, 

The Trump administration is preparing to roll out a plan this week to send military-style federal assault squads already in Portland, Oregon, into other cities, warned White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who only named locations with Democratic mayors.

Attorney General William Barr is “weighing in on that” with acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, Meadows said Sunday on Fox News.

“You’ll see something rolled out this week, as we start to go in and make sure that the communities — whether it’s Chicago or Portland or Milwaukee or someplace across the heartland — we need to make sure their communities are safe,” he added.

All three cities named are run by Democrats.

President Donald Trump also indicated that federal squads would likely target cities run by the party that opposes him. He said on “Fox News Sunday” that “violence” was on the increase in “Democrat-run cities.”

Yesterday, there were reports of similar activities in Columbus, Ohio.

This is eerily reminiscent of Hitler’s SA.

The SA — Sturmabteilung, meaning ‘assault division’ — also known as the Brownshirts or Storm Troopers, was a violent paramilitary group attached to the Nazi Party in pre-World War Two Germany.the SA functioned as a ‘security’ force at Nazi rallies and meetings, using threats and outright violence to secure votes and overcome Hitler’s political enemies.

The Germans who objected were obviously unable to mount an effective resistance to the use of extra-legal thugs to subdue Hitler’s political enemies. 

 Americans have long believed “it can’t happen here.” We’re now testing that belief.

Portland

We’ve been in Portland, Oregon, for two and a half days now. If I were twenty years younger, I would seriously consider moving here.

We wanted to visit Portland because we are urban policy nerds, and knew that Portland was something of a city planner’s dream. It is. Here, in no particular order, are some of our observations:

Billboards are obviously strictly controlled; we counted exactly five between the airport and downtown, making that 45 minute taxi ride far more scenic.

Streets are a bit narrower than in most cities, and blocks are a good deal shorter–even shorter than the “short” blocks in NYC. Most are tree-lined, and in the downtown area there are flower baskets hanging from hooks on the street lights. Although there’s a grid, it isn’t rigid; there are also streets angling off in various directions. All of that makes walking around really pleasant. Plus, the urban core is amazingly compact.

Bikes are everywhere, and there are dedicated bike lanes.

Perhaps the walking and biking account for another observation: people on the streets in Portland are mostly thin.

There are tons of parks–big and small and interactive (kids splashing in park pools is encouraged). The streets are active–unlike in Indianapolis, parking garages all have first-floor retail, so there aren’t long “dead” areas. And most of the retail seems to be local–although there are some national chains, local shops, bars and restaurants (of which there are so many you wonder if anyone here cooks) outnumber them by a significant margin. (I’ve seen few Starbucks, for example, although there are regional and local coffee shops everywhere.) Hundreds of food trucks offer all sorts of creative cuisines (Mauritania has a cuisine? Who knew?)

I wasn’t able to find out how many people live in downtown Portland, but there are many, many apartment buildings, and a good deal of the retail downtown caters to residential needs. (There’s a huge kitchenware store and three supermarkets–including a Whole Foods. So I guess someone must cook….) And there are regular, rotating Farmer’s Markets; we saw one, and it, too, was huge.

Speaking of huge, Powell’s books. An entire city block. 300,000 titles in stock, new and used. We got there a few minutes before 9:00 a.m., when it opened, and there was already a line.

And everywhere you look, you see public transportation. There are buses and trolleys in traffic lanes dedicated to them–no cars allowed. Light rail. A tram to carry folks up the big hill (with bike parking at its base). Nirvana…

We spent yesterday morning riding the trolley system. The cars were immaculate, the system was easy to understand, and $5 bought a 24-hour pass, good for the bus, the trolley and the light rail. The system is obviously well-used, and by a broad cross-section of riders.

I’ve also been absolutely blown away by how NICE people here are. My husband and I stopped to look at a building, and a man asked if he could help us find something. In a shoe store, the clerk whipped out a map and suggested places we should see–and gave me her card in case I had questions. The motorman on the first trolley we rode not only offered complete directions, but let us know when we were approaching the stop at which we needed to transfer. Servers in restaurants have been equally helpful. Drivers yield to pedestrians–and each other– everywhere, and no one honks his horn!

Portland is pretty similar in size to Indianapolis, and every urban amenity I’ve described is something Indianapolis (and other cities) could do, if we had the political will. But fairness requires acknowledging assets we couldn’t duplicate, like the absence of mosquitos. A climate in which you can evidently grow ANYTHING. No humidity. Mild winters that don’t take as much of a toll on roads, buildings and infrastructure. Mountains, rivers and hills.

I’m sure if I actually lived here, I’d find things to complain about. But from our admittedly limited perspective, this is a city to envy.