Climate strike arrests cause unrest


Graphic by Mei Xu

At a climate walkout in September, two students of color were arrested amist the hundreds of protestors.

On Sept. 20, 2019, thousands of Portland students walked out to demand that all new city policies be enacted with an emphasis on climate and for Mayor Ted Wheeler to work with Portland voters to construct an equitable climate policy. 

The walkout was part of a 156-country global climate strike urging action to address climate change. Students gathered at Terry Schrunk Plaza for a demonstration that included speeches, raps and poems from student leaders. They later marched across the Hawthorne Bridge for a climate festival at OMSI.

While the demonstration was mostly peaceful, two students of color were confronted by Portland Police on the Hawthorne Bridge. 

In a series of videos that went viral on Twitter, the two students can be seen standing on the parapet of the bridge in an argument with two officers while the officers tell the students to get down. It appears from the video that, when the officer forcefully pushes the students off of the parapet that the students start to physically engage with the officers while other students behind them try and pull them away. 

Police officers waited until the crowd of student protesters filled the parking lots of OMSI, an area they claimed was safer, before they forcefully pushed through, arresting one of the students involved in the earlier altercation on the bridge. A second student was arrested for interfering with a police officer after attempting to pull the student away from the police officer.

A statement released by the Portland Police Bureau on Sept. 24 claimed that the students who were arrested did not comply with requests to get off the railing after being repeatedly warned. 

An individual’s actions combined with environmental factors,” said the statement, “such as a bridge with moving vehicles and a very large crowd size, are elements the officers have to take into account for everyone’s safety.”

On Twitter, the video has been retweeted almost 18 thousand times. Many viewers used Twitter to disagree with the police bureau’s actions and some condemned the police bureau’s actions, comparing the police reactions during the climate strike walkout to the Proud Boys rally which occurred a month earlier on Aug. 17th. 

One Twitter user, @drewgrewal, wrote on Sept. 20, “These are the same police that closed and escorted their Nazi Proud Boys across the same bridge just weeks ago. I was [at the climate strike walkout] and thousands were forced onto tight sidewalks spilling into traffic…” 

In a Facebook post addressing the incident, City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty condemned the Portland Police Bureau for targeting the students on the bridge. 

“Portland Police officers,” said Hardesty in her post, “unnecessarily escalated a situation by pushing through a crowd of youth to single out two youth of color.”

The arrests also caused a reaction from many student activists. Lincoln senior, Sriya Chinnam, one of the student organizers of the strike, said that she was not surprised by the actions taken by the police. She also believes that the use of force was not justified.

“The just way to deal with this situation is to not use force at all,” said Chinnam. “The video did not show the police asking these kids politely to move. It showed police violently grabbing kids by their shirts, which is not how a police officer should behave with a kid.” 

The arrests have also prompted some students to reevaluate their own personal beliefs. 

Lincoln junior Natalie Solomon believes that the arrests have influenced her to better understand the power of privilege, especially privilege at Lincoln. 

“I think that the arrests happening without much news attention from the Lincoln community is another reflection of that.” 

Five weeks after the arrest, police decided not to bring formal charges upon the students involved in the altercation.

The involved students did not respond to The Cardinal Times’ request for an interview.