Protest medics in Portland not spared from force, targeting by police – OregonLive

Protest medics in Portland not spared from force, targeting by police  OregonLive

Amanda Siebe has volunteered as a medic at nightly protests in Portland since the second week of June. The work is unlike anything the former emergency medical technician has encountered at mass gatherings.

Siebe and dozens of other medics have had to constantly alter their operations since the protests began after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in late May.

Medic tents have been ransacked by federal officers, medic tables and supplies seized by local officers. Medics themselves have been shot with munitions while rendering aid to protesters.

Medics also face the threat of arrest, as shown by the medic arrested in Southeast Portland early Saturday morning.

Four medics, including Siebe, say injuries to protesters worsened when federal officers arrived weeks into the protests, although they all noted treating serious injuries before that.

“Normally it’s Band-Aids and a little bit of gauze,” Siebe said. “This time it’s full-on impact wounds, tons of tear gas, a lot of infected wounds from the dirt in the tear gas.”

The work of medics has slowed downtown as the number of protesters and injuries wane after federal officers agreed to let state police take over some command roles. But as clashes between Portland police and protesters escalate in other parts of town, many medics still have work to do.

Portland protests continued for the 72nd consecutive night Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. Groups gathered at Laurelhurst Park located at César E. Chávez Boulevard and Stark Street in Southeast Portland and then marched to a law enforcement building shared by the city and county at East Burnside Street and 47th Avenue. The demonstration arose hours after President Donald Trump claimed Friday denounced the “mob” of protesters that continue to meet nightly and said federal agents could immediately and very easily put a stop to the ongoing protests. Dave Killen/Staff

Portland police flipped at least one medic wagon Thursday as medics were dispersing with protesters outside a police precinct, according to video footage and the accounts of two witnesses. Portland police drove over another cart of first-aid supplies and snacks, according to the medic group the cart belonged to.

Portland police did something similar Aug. 1, when police scattered supplies belonging to a different medic group on East Burnside Avenue and left the cart behind.

Portland police spokesperson Derek Carmon said he didn’t have any information about the earlier incident. That incident, and at least two other similar incidents, were captured on video.

Bija Young, a medic, said she was right next to the cart when it was seized by a Portland police officer Aug. 1.

“People started yelling ‘This is medic supplies,’ and he just flips it over and dumps it all over the road, and then continues to push everyone and push the medics,” Young said.

Young is not associated with the group that operated the cart, Portland Action Medics.

Medics have gathered in Southeast Portland city parks as they follow the shifting locations being used as gathering places by protesters. Sometimes, medics spend the majority of the evening making sure people are hydrated, other times, injuries can begin mounting as a result of police action early in the night.

Since late May, the most common aid from medics has come in the form of eye flushes after a protester is doused with pepper spray, caught in a cloud of tear gas or comes in close contact with pepper rounds.

A medic treats Black Lives Matter protester Lacey Wambalaba after exposure to chemical irritants deployed by federal officers at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse on Friday, July 24, 2020, in Portland, Ore. Since federal officers arrived in downtown Portland in early July, violent protests have largely been limited to a two block radius from the courthouse. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)AP

Three medics who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive said federal officers targeted protesters and medics in more aggressive ways than local police. The medics said protesters more often suffered impact injuries in the head and face.

Young said she had been shot with pepper rounds by federal officers while she was rendering aid.

The ACLU of Oregon filed a lawsuit against local and federal police July 22 for attacking medics, alleging the targeted actions by police violate the medics’ Constitutional rights.

A team of Oregon Health & Science University medical students has been at protests since June 11. OHSU medics have treated protesters with everything from impact injuries to burns and broken bones.

Over time, OHSU medics have altered their operations to try to keep at least some of their team and supplies further away from law enforcement.

Adrian Baris, one of the OHSU medics, said the most concentrated day of injuries to medics was July 4, when Portland police declared a riot and deployed tear gas and riot munitions twice in 24 hours.

Although the group had been officially sanctioned by OHSU, the sanction was revoked by university officials July 31 amid liability concerns.

Medics from OHSU are still present at protests, but are no longer officially associated with OHSU.

Michelle Ozaki, OHSU medic, said Portland police have been less directly aggressive toward their group after Portland police arrested OHSU medic Michael Martinez and seized the group’s table and supplies June 13.

Martinez is a plaintiff in the case filed by the ACLU of Oregon.

Baris saw police arrest Martinez as he filmed officers and remaining medics were pushed out of the area.

Ozaki said she and Baris returned to the Justice Center around 3 a.m. June 14 in an attempt to retrieve their supplies. All that was left was a pile of trash. Ozaki and Baris asked officers remaining in front of the Justice Center about their medic supplies.

“They told us that we should have known what we were getting into; that it was a war zone and they claimed that it was most likely stolen by other people and not the police,” Ozaki said.

An OHSU faculty member eventually retrieved the table and some supplies, which Ozaki said was placed by a dumpster, rather than held by law enforcement.

An OHSU medic has not been arrested since the arrest of Martinez. Baris said some have been injured by tear gas, batons and rubber bullets used by both local and federal officers.

Michael Miller (left) looks through his bag of medical supplies. Miller is one of the plaintiffs in the recent ACLU of Oregon lawsuit, which was filed against the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Marshals Service and the City of Portland for harming medics at the protests.

The Witches are another group that has provided medical services to protesters, as well as helped connect protesters with food and other resources.

One medic who works with The Witches said she and her peers believe they have been specifically targeted at times by federal officers. The group’s medics had stopped marking themselves with red crosses for a time, because they felt it made them more likely to be targeted by law enforcement, said the medic, who asked her name not be used because of fear for her safety.

“I think that there is, at some level, a very clear calculus about targeting medics,” the medic said.

The Witches’ medical tent was torn apart by federal officers in the early morning hours of July 27. Footage and photos from various sources, including the medic who spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive, showed federal officers dump tubs and drawers of medical supplies on the ground and leave the tent open to continued waves of tear gas. The medic had closed a clear plastic curtain around the tent with tape when the dispersal began.

The medic said she believes federal officers may have tainted the supplies with some type of chemical. Independent journalist Jacob Hanning reported on Twitter the tent smelled like bleach after federal officers departed.

The medic cart flipped by Portland police Thursday belonged to The Witches, who said they had two other medic carts confiscated by police Thursday night and early Friday morning during protests.

The confusion leaves medics to navigate the crowd dispersals while trying to prioritize the treatment of protesters.

— K. Rambo


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