Cops Repeatedly Attacked And Obstructed Street Medics
Above photo: Four Portland police officers arrest a protester during a crowd dispersal near Mississippi Avenue on August 14, 2020, in Portland, Oregon. By Nathan Howard, Getty Images.
Move! Move! Move to the west, you are subject to arrest. Move to the west now, this is a riot!” a dystopian voice blared over a police loudspeaker in Portland on the night of August 12, after over 70 continuous days of revolt in solidarity with Black lives in the Oregon city.
The same night, in Tampa, Florida, police jumped out of an unmarked car and tackled a well-known Black community organizer, Jae Passmore, to the ground while bystanders repeatedly screamed: “get your knee off her neck!”
One demonstrator, who prefers the pseudonym Sammy Amote, told Truthout that the officers yelled “orange shirt,” which matched Passmore’s attire. Amote said, “It seemed clearly targeted because she wasn’t doing anything.” (Less than two months prior, a man in a pickup truck hit Passmore while she was demonstrating, giving her a concussion and wounding her hip and right leg.)
“The cops said they called the EMTs, but we had a medical professional — as a protest medic, as most protests have — on site who offered to help her in the meantime,” Amote explained. The officers said no and threatened arrest if she tried to help, even after she identified herself as a medic. About 20 minutes later the EMTs came and she was taken to the hospital.”
Several days before, at a demonstration countering a “pro-police” rally, Austin, Texas, police arrested at least two medics, punching one several times. The individual who filmed the scene told Truthout that the violence didn’t seem targeted in that particular instance. “However, APD has targeted many medics before,” he said. “On the first day of protests a medic, who was very clearly identified as so, was shot in the shin with a less lethal.” In June, Austin police shot Justin Howell, a young Black man, with munitions that fractured his skull and potentially gave him brain damage. A viral video showed police shooting munitions at medics and protesters while they attempted to treat Howell.
Dozens of reports of police arresting medics and destroying their property have arisen since the revolt began in late May. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, police assaulted medics at their tent in a Kmart parking lot on May 31.
“We announced ourselves as medics,” one medic told Unicorn Riot. “They began to launch rubber bullets and tear gas into our facility where there were no other protesters in that area, exclusively medics and those who had been wounded…” Police forced them out, occupied the space and slashed all tires in the parking lot.
In Asheville, North Carolina, police destroyed a medic station by stabbing and stomping on water bottles and dismantling a table with snacks and supplies. In Denver, Colorado, demonstrators filed a class-action lawsuit against police, presenting videos of police firing projectiles at a medic who was helping an unconscious person. In Columbus, Ohio, videos show police choking a medic, ostensibly because they were filming an arrest.
Still, Portland-based Rosehip Medic Collective told Truthout, “Police attack white medics a lot less than they attack other protesters or Black people in general.”
Medics are no different than others taking to the streets, they said: “We are protesting because Black Lives Matter and we need to defund, disarm and disband the Portland Police Bureau.”
Although mainstream media’s coverage of the demonstrations has decreased, people are still in the streets. Many are demanding police abolition, with defunding as a first step. Some progress has been made in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin and Philadelphia as city councils move toward partially defunding the police, and Minneapolis may abolish its force entirely. The budget decreases, however fall far short of activists’ demands and most U.S. cities have refused to defund police.
While the demonstrations have forced some concessions, police conduct seemingly hasn’t improved. Since January 1, 2015, police have shot and killed at least 5,517 nationally and are on track to kill as many people as previous years at 586 people as of August 14.
Countless beatings, injuries, and violent arrests have been reported since police took Floyd’s last breath, making medics essential for the safety of protesters at increasingly risky demonstrations. When police target medics and mutual aid centers, they take the legs out from underneath the rebellion.
The Geneva Conventions specify that military attacks should not be targeted against “hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives” or against “medical units and transport” during armed conflicts. However, there appear to be no such accountability structures guiding domestic police against grassroots care-providers. (Notably, chemical weapons such as tear gas and pepper spray are frequently used domestically against protesters despite being considered illegal in war zones per the Chemical Weapons Convention.)
By Saturday in Portland, the medic van was repaired and back on the streets, while street medics supplied helmets, flashlights and water to demonstrators on Friday.
With no end in sight for demonstrations in Portland and elsewhere, alongside an increasingly emboldened right-wing presence, medics will, unfortunately, be stocking up – and facing police violence – for the foreseeable future.
Ella Fassler is an independent writer and researcher based in Rhode Island. Her work has been featured in The Nation and The Appeal. Follow her on Twitter: @EllaFassler.