PORTLAND, Ore — Day after day over the past week, thousands of people have poured into Portland's streets to protest police injustices against Black Americans.
We have seen a similar pattern and theme each night: largely peaceful protests take place for hours on the east side of town, and then late into the night a different group makes its way to the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland, causing chaos and destruction and clashing with law enforcement.
For many watching history unfold, that has started to overshadow what so many are fighting hard for.
But activists and peaceful protest organizers say we shouldn't be looking at the differences because the message and the root cause are the same.
While their tactics aren't exactly aligned, both efforts are a response to the underlying issues and frustrations.
“Sometimes when we’re looking at violence and looting and these words constantly that's what you think of is, ‘Oh, that’s further going to hurt our community’,” said one of the protest organizers, Kinsey Smyth, who's part of a group called Portland Civil Rights Collective, "So we're bridging those efforts. We’re trying to make it so that further destruction is not there; we’re going to go help clean up. We’re going to make sure further destruction of human bodies and life is not there; so we're going to go protect them. I'm not going to go tell them their efforts are wrong or right but I'm going to go there and try to reduce the harm and destruction happening so messages across the board are being heard," Smyth added.
Organizers behind the protests that have started at Revolution Hall in Southeast Portland prefer peace; they truly believe it can lead to reform.
But Smyth and Devin Boss, a different protest organizer with a group called Rose City Justice, also know anger inside people who feel oppressed comes out in all types of ways. People are fed up with African Americans dying at the hands of law enforcement, and they're going to act how they feel compelled to.
"People are going to do whatever they think they need to do in order to be heard," Boss said, "I want people to realize a lot of the stuff happening wouldn't happen if you would listen to the voices that are always begging to be heard."
“My motto is 100-percent peaceful, zero percent victim: I'm 100-percent about peaceful protests and showing we can create change in a way that doesn't involve violence whatsoever. But if the police - who laugh at our efforts, who mimic them, who have no respect for us or our people and harm and brutalize us - if they decide they want to inflict pain, we're going to react," Boss added.
KGW met up with Boss and Smyth after they held a meeting together to figure how to bridge the gap between efforts. They're working to build a cohesive, clear message and create specific demands for reforming law enforcement and fixing systemic racism.
Ultimately, they feel we need to scrap militarized policing in our country, defund law enforcement and break down the walls of institutionalized protection around police.
They also feel on a local level Portlanders need to be paying attention to the upcoming city budget decisions as they relate to funding the Portland Police Bureau, along with voting in local elections for people who will elevate Black lives and their voices.
Multiple nights this past week, law enforcement has used force including tear gas, flash bangs and other crowd control munitions to try to disperse crowds outside the Justice Center after declaring the demonstrations "unlawful assemblies" and “civil disturbances”.
Smyth and Boss say Americans will keep protesting until police brutality ends, including the excessive force they’ve watched transpire during the demonstrations opposing that very thing.
Boss says protesters feel there has become an “us versus them” mentality, especially throughout protests around the country, and they must crack through that in order to establish trust between law enforcement and the black community.
“This is the revolution part of it, the empowerment, the liberation happening within so many humans right now,” Smyth added.
This revolution and awakening, as its been called, have been amplified by social media, with its messages and reach extended far beyond the Black community.
People feel more empowered than ever and this time life won't go back to the way it was before.