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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Explained: Why tensions are on the rise in Portland in the US

Portland protests: President Donald Trump has repeatedly branded the protesters "anarchists", and lashed out at Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, calling him “weak and pathetic”.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 1, 2020 8:15:33 am
Portland protests, Portland shooting, Patriot Prayer, “Jay” Danielson, Kyle Rittenhouse, Donald trump, black lives matter, express explained indian expressA protester plays a banjo during the nightly protests at a Portland police precinct on Sunday, August 30. (Photo: AP)

For more than three months now, anti-racism protests have rocked Portland in the northwestern United States. This weekend, tensions escalated after supporters of President Donald Trump and protesters clashed in the city, and a man was fatally shot.

In July, Trump had sent federal troops to quell the Black Lives Matter protests here – a move that instead reignited the agitation. Over almost 100 days of protests, there have been several instances of vandalism of private as well as government property, including a prison, a courthouse and Portland’s City Hall.

Trump has repeatedly branded the protesters “anarchists”, and lashed out at Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler of the Democratic party, calling him a “fool” and “weak and pathetic”.

What happened over the weekend in Portland?

On Saturday evening, a caravan of around 600 trucks packed with supporters of President Trump drove into Portland, after first assembling at a shopping centre outside the city. The supporters were carrying “Trump 2020” banners and “thin blue line” US flags – used to express support for the police, but which are also seen as opposing the Black Lives Matter movement.

Members of the caravan and counterprotesters clashed, leading to fistfights, and Trump supporters shot paintball guns at protesters, who responded by throwing objects at them, a New York Times report said.

About 15 minutes after the trucks left Portland, a man believed to be associated with Patriot Prayer– a right-wing group active in the northwestern United States– was fatally shot. Reports said that a link between the killing and the skirmishes was yet to be established.

The victim was identified by Patriot Prayer founder Joey Gibson as Aaron “Jay” Danielson, who he described as a “good friend” but did not provide further details. Trump expressed support for the caravan, calling them “great patriots”, and retweeted Danielson’s name and wrote, “Rest in peace Jay!”

Trump’s ‘law and order’ agenda ahead of the November election

Experts believe that Trump, who is trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden in opinion polls for the November race, has been aggressively pushing a “law and order” plank to take voters away from the Democratic camp.

Trump has not only strongly denounced, but even suggested the use of violence against the mostly non-violent countrywide protests, sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, in May. Over the months, Trump has accused Democrats, who are in power in large cities such as New York, Chicago and Washington, DC, where protests took place, of being weak on crime.

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This message, of a supposed clash between law enforcement and anarchy, was strongly driven home at the Republican National Convention last week by several speakers, including Trump. The mega event showcased footage from the protests as ‘the possible future of the country’ should the Democrats come to power.

Trump has also adopted the same approach in dealing with the Kenosha protests, triggered after the non-fatal shooting of Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old African American man. On Sunday, Trump appeared to be lending support to Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old charged with fatally shooting two protesters and wounding another, after he liked a Twitter post that read, “Kyle Rittenhouse is a good example of why I decided to vote for Trump.”

Also in Explained | What is the Hatch Act, which Donald Trump has been accused of violating

Biden has “unequivocally” condemned violence on all sides, while holding Trump responsible for instigating it. “(Trump) may think that war in our streets is good for his reelection chances, but that is not presidential leadership — or even basic human compassion,” Biden said.

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