VIDEO RELEASE: Merkley Highlights Abuses of Peaceful Protesters by Federal Forces in Portland at Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today testified before a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, emphasizing Oregonians’ cry for justice and an end to systemic racism, and providing firsthand accounts of demonstrators’ experiences in Portland after the Trump administration escalated tensions by sending unmarked federal forces into the city.

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Portland, also testified before the committee after being invited by Senator Merkley and Ranking Member Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI).

Last month, after President Trump and Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf sent federal forces into Portland, federal officers inflicted serious injuries on protesters and escalated violence each night. During the occupation, federal operatives shot several peaceful protesters in the head, causing serious injury and hospitalization; unmarked federal agents grabbed protesters from the streets and swept them to unmarked minivans, apparently without probable cause; and agents pepper sprayed and broke the hand of a Navy veteran. The forces used teargas and munitions against protesters on a nightly basis.

“Using secret police tactics against peaceful BLM protestors doesn’t make [President Trump] a defender of law and order, it makes him a violent oppressor,” Merkley said in his testimony before the committee. “These tactics were not about arresting anarchists. Trump’s forces did not arrest the violent few. They attacked the peaceful many.”  

“I went and saw it for myself this past weekend,” Merkley continued. “I spoke at rally hosted by the local chapter of the NAACP, and walked around talking with folks who had been there day after day. These men and women want our nation to reckon with the systemic racism that remains at the heart of so many of our institutions, and which has shaped life in this country for more than four centuries. … The overwhelming majority of those who have taken to the streets of our cities have done so because they know that America can do better. And they know that America must do better.”

“Millions are marching and rallying in America; using their right to speak. Still, we know that the forces that resist just, systemic change are as wicked and behind the times as the deceased Bull Connor and the very much alive Carolyn Bryant Donham. They do not believe that the Constitution is meant for all of us. They seek to use it as a shield for their bias,” Harmon Johnson said in her testimony. “When I was invited to testify at this hearing, I thought to use my right to free speech to say ‘feds go home’ because federal occupying forces took hold in Portland streets where they had no business or lawful authority. They were uninvited, and dangerous additions to downtown Portland. Our local police and sheriffs do not need any help to create violence and damage the public trust. Now that federal police have retreated into the federal building and perhaps dispersed to torment other American cities, today I can focus on the power of protests and our noble aim.”

“The United States of America can be a beacon of hope and democracy. First, our country must make good on its long overdue debt to Black Americans. It is time for all of us to get into good trouble, necessary trouble, as the Honorable John Lewis called upon us to do until justice can claim its victory and our nation’s Constitution is made real to all in this country,” Harmon Johnson concluded.

The hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution was titled “The Right of the People Peaceably to Assemble: Protecting Speech by Stopping Anarchist Violence,” and was chaired by U.S.  Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), who sought to use the hearing to amplify President Trump’s misleading efforts to conflate widespread peaceful protests with sporadic acts of violence in order to revitalize his sputtering re-election campaign.

Video of Senator Merkley’s testimony can be found here.

Video of Urban League of Portland President and CEO Nkenge Harmon Johnson’s testimony can be found here.