Every state in the country has been home to some form of protest in the weeks after police killed George Floyd while he was in their custody.
Protests have historically been a way for people to express that change is needed. Portland’s Black Lives Matter protests are no exception and have been displaying large numbers of protesters for the past few weeks. Activists from the Portland area share about experiences with tear gas, rubber bullets, arrest, and tips on amplifying Black voices.
Trinity Stegall, a 19-year-old activist from Vancouver, says supporting the Black community goes beyond the protests happening now.
“Support us through everything,” she says. “Not just this movement, but every industry. Help lift our voices when others won’t listen.”
Stegall says to let Black people be in charge of protests and show support. She said non-black people shouldn’t be leading chants or speaking at Black Lives Matter events.
“It’s our time to be heard and our time to be recognized,” she says. “We truly just need your support during these times.”
Going to a protest does not always mean that it will be dangerous, but according to the New York Times, protesters have been tear-gassed in 98 U.S. cities since May 26.
Those who have experienced tear gas can attest to its painful effects. Brenna* is an 18-year-old from the Portland area. She’s always been involved in activism, but recent events have been a catalyst for her to get more engaged, she says.
“I’ve witnessed brutality when marches were happening,” she said. “Police declared it an ‘unlawful assembly’. Everyone started to chant ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ and without just cause, they started to open fire [using rubber bullets] and use tear gas. I watched a man who was trying to run curl up in a ball and start crying from the tear gas. We tried to help him, but the worst part is there’s not much you can do.”
Olivia Rae Decklar, a University of Oregon alumni, is a Portland-based activist who said she has attended more protests than she can count.
Decklar says it’s up to the individual to decide to stay if a situation gets elevated, but recognizing the legal risks is important and they could be different depending on who you are. You may not see someone arrested at a protest, but the possibility is still there.
“If you’re a white adult who is a U.S citizen and you’re prepared to get arrested, you should stay,” she said. “If you’re undocumented, a person of color or Black, the situation can become very dangerous or even deadly.”
Decklar says not to wear makeup, as tear gas can be ground into the skin and be hard to get out. She says not to rub your eyes if you come in contact with tear gas, but to get to a safe place and rinse your eyes out with water.
“Cover [your] face and hair with a t-shirt wrap, which can slightly protect against tear gas,” she said. “… and COVID-19 which is very much still alive.”
She notes that tear gas canisters can be extremely hot and if handling them, it’s important to have heat-resistant gloves.
“The best way to protect against tear gas is to have goggles, full skin covering, heat-resistant gloves, a traffic cone or a big empty bottle and some water,” she said. Decklar says that tear gas canisters are deactivated by water. Protesters have been seen trapping canisters under a traffic cone or large empty bottle and pouring water over it. Decklar says this neutralizes the tear gas.
The same outfit for tear gas to protect skin is important when faced with rubber bullets, Decklar says. The bullets can still do damage, she notes. Goggles are also important.
“Some folks have lost their eyes to rubber bullets,” she says. “A key defense for rubber bullets are signs, sturdy signs made of wood or foam with a plastic or metal backing can be the greatest shield when the rubber bullets start flying.”
For those who can’t attend a protest for whatever reason, there are ways to help from home.
“Donate to the cause,” said Stegall. “Sign as many petitions as possible. Support Black-owned businesses in your area and online. Talk to your family and friends about the uncomfy things. Start a book club and read ‘White Fragility’.”
Most importantly, Stegall says, listen and be an ally.
“If you aren’t completely with us, you’re against us,” she says. “It’s not just Black men and women. It’s Black children, disabled Black people, Black people part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s all of these Black lives that aren’t filmed that matter. Recognize your privilege. Recognize our struggle and the systemic problems that surround it.”
*Last name omitted for privacy in protesting matters.