(The Center Square) – Anti-fascists, Black Lives Matter activists, and supporters of President Donald Trump converged on Salem, Oregon, for a New Year’s Day of discontent with state government and law enforcement.
The day began with a Black Lives Matter protest of about 100 people at Bush's Pasture Park and attended by about 15 anti-fascists armed with shields, bats, and paintball guns.
Speakers at the rally included a number of Black, Indigenous, and people of color who spoke of their own experience with police brutality and discrimination.
Gerald, a Black deaf man, was one such speaker who said 2020 was the year he bought a gun for the first time in his life because of increasing racism and police violence.
"I never had a gun before," Gerald said through an interpreter. "I never knew how to use a gun. I had to get one because I was scared for my life. Why should I be living in fear?"
Dre Miller, a Black father of four and the son of a correctional officer, says he sees himself as a reformer working to bridge the gap between police and Black communities as someone who knows what it's like to be part of both groups.
For Miller, building a dialogue between the police and policed calls for empathy.
"I grew up with police officers as my role models because that was my mom's job," Miller said. "But there came a time when they started looking at me as a suspect. That's where we need to figure out where can we bridge that [gap]."
A state report found Black drivers made up 5.1% of traffic stops in Oregon over the last 10 years, despite making up 2.2% of Oregon’s population.
Gary Floyd, a Black civic activist, told protesters the reason they were there was not to win a fight against far-right groups like the Proud Boys.
"We're not here to fight some f***ing Proud Boys," Floyd said. "We're here because Black lives matter. We're here because Black women's lives matter. We're here because Black trans lives matter."
The protest at the park saw a heated exchange between Miller and anti-fascists who left while Floyd was still speaking, which Miller said was disrespectful.
Phillip, a deaf white man and survivor of police brutality, said growing the Black Lives Matter movement will take hard work.
"You don't need 5,000 people in the street," Phillip said through an interpreter. "You just need a few. I think that, right now, one day at a time, we can grow our way to a million people in the streets."
For the Trump supporters gathered outside Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s residence at Mahonia Hall on Friday, the arrest of five right-wing demonstrators who tried to force their way into into the state capitol building last month was a betrayal of their faith in police and "blue lives."
In a change of pace, not one Blue Lives Matter flag could be seen flying with the assorted Trump flags held by the 150 or so Trump supporters on the street.
The protesters, who called on Brown to end the statewide health restrictions that have closed schools and businesses, booed the dozen of officers at the gates.
Some called the officers "traitors" while others accused them of betraying their oath to serve and protect "real Americans."
Speakers at the protest quoted Bible passages, read speeches, and brought up a number of conspiracy theories about mass voter fraud and the COVID-19 pandemic before unfurling an American flag and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Nan Baker-Krofft, an Oregon substitute teacher and legal observer, said the pandemic and its resulting fallout cost her about half her salary in 2020. But she disagrees Brown's restrictions are an abuse of power.
"To me, the Constitution is very clear," Baker-Krofft said. "There are certain powers that governors have and presidents have and that elections have. Some people are still in denial."
Trump supporters, some of them heavily armed, marched to the state capitol building before accosting Black Lives Matter speaker Jonathan Jones in front of his downtown business, Epilogue Kitchen and Cocktails.
Police who arrived on the scene declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and threatened to use force if the Trump supporters and Proud Boys who remained did not disperse. The group eventually did.
The same scenario played out into the night as about two dozen defiant Trump supporters were pushed back to the capitol building by a human wall of about 100 Salem police officers, state troopers, and officers with the Marion County Sheriff's office.
By early Friday evening, officers set up roadblocks boxing in protesters at the capitol mall. No tear gas was used.
Trump supporters spent most of that time screaming at approaching officers to "pick a side" amid the sound of flash bangs and bleating sirens, claiming officers were singling out right-wing protesters.
Months earlier at a November "Stop the Steal" rally at the state capitol building, Salem police made no arrests for a group of Trump supporters who vandalized a passing car emblazoned with a Black Lives Matter sticker.
Salem police reported arresting three protesters on New Year's Day—Robert Davis, Joshua D. Lindquist, and Max Damaskin—on charges of disorderly conduct in the second degree, interfering with a police officer, unlawful possession of fireworks, and carrying a concealed firearm.
"I am proud of the discipline and professionalism exhibited by our teams," said Salem Police Chief Trevor Womack in a statement on Saturday. "We will always welcome, encourage, and protect the rights of groups peacefully assembling, regardless of their views, but we cannot and will not allow individuals to commit serious crimes without consequence."
Protests in Salem over past months have generated concern from local residents who take issue with what they call opportunities for menacing, public drinking, and disrupting neighborhood streets.
Salem resident Jim Scheppke shared such concerns in his petition to Salem City Manager Steve Powers and Womack to put a stop to the "illegal" activities. The petition took in 54,892 signatures by late Friday night.
Another Trump rally is planned for Wednesday, Jan. 6, at the Oregon state capitol building the day Vice President Mike Pence is expected to certify the 2020 presidential election results.