Thousands of local students, along with parents, grandparents and even babies in strollers, joined millions worldwide to protest inaction on climate change, but one incident involving police enforcement against some young people and the arrest of a young African American male drew complaints from civic leaders for brutality, including the Urban League of Portland and Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
The student-led climate strike march on Friday was inspiring to many and largely peaceful and most students were provided excused absences from area schools, but Portland Police reported that three arrests were made during the protest.
One arrest was of an adult male who identified himself only as “Jake,” whom police said was using spray paint to deface the bridge. He was pepper sprayed after initially resisting arrest, officials said. But the arrest that drew the ire of the president and chief executive officer of the Urban League, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, and Commissioner Hardesty were videos showing officers “pushing through a crowd of white teenagers to pull a black teenager from their midst.”
Johnson accused the public safety officers involved of “unacceptable behavior toward our young people.”
The videos were viewed more than a half million times on social media, according to reports. One video showed officers trying to get two young people down from a metal railing on the bridge, and another showed the officers later pushing through a group to arrest one of the teens who had earlier been standing on the railing.
“I’ve said it before and will say it again. The Portland Police are out of control and need to be reined in,” said Johnson, as quoted in the Willamette Week.
Hardesty also said the action from police recorded in the videos was disturbing.
"Every encounter with the public is an opportunity to show community trust, yet this is how these officers chose to interact with children peacefully engaging in direct action," Hardesty said. "I am so proud to have witnessed the power of our youth at last Friday's Global Climate Strike and it's unfortunate that the conduct of Portland Police officers during the protest—rather than the amazing show of power and resolve our youth showed that day—is what we are now talking about."
The Portland Police Bureau defended its actions immediately after the Friday march. The department stated that the young black man they arrested had been leaning out into the traffic lane on the bridge, causing some vehicles to slam on their brakes. When they tried to arrest him, others in the crowd pulled him away and police backed off, but followed him “to a safer location” where he was arrested, police said. The third person arrested was another teen who tried to interfere when the first boy was arrested, authorities added. Both were later released “to the custody of responsible adults.”
The Police Bureau said safety was the utmost importance to police officers at the time and defended the officers using a common tactic to delay arrest to a time when it was safer to avoid a flashpoint and avoid the risk of having to use even greater force.