Fear has infiltrated the streets of Portland: Reporter's Notebook

ABC News' Kayna Whitworth reflects on covering the Portland protests.

September 2, 2020, 5:03 AM

PORTLAND, OREGON -- Flying back to Portland I looked out my window to see the Three Sisters. My mom and I hiked the South Sister for her 50th birthday, it's a special place to us. My heart hurts to think that unrest has continued for so long.

Aaron "Jay" Danielson was murdered in the streets during unrest on Saturday. He was shot in the chest. His friend and business partner said Danielson was a "proud American and proud Portlander," who was "not a radical not a racist and not a fascist."

Fear has infiltrated the streets. We flew back to Portland the next day.

We arrived at the planned protest Sunday evening outside the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office in North East Portland. We were not welcome. It was a completely different experience than we've had while covering past protests in Portland.

We were immediately surrounded by people in riot gear, many of them showing insignia of the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, the group who organized the demonstration. They were upset that we might be showing their faces, fearing backlash from police who use facial recognition.

PHOTO: Portland police make arrests on the scene of the nightly protests at a Portland police precinct on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020 in Portland, Ore.
Portland police make arrests on the scene of the nightly protests at a Portland police precinct on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020 in Portland, Ore. Oregon State Police will return to Portland to help local authorities after the fatal shooting of a man following clashes between President Donald Trump supporters and counter-protesters that led to an argument between the president and the city's mayor over who was to blame for the violence.
Paula Bronstein/AP

They attacked my cameraman, pushing and shoving him, shining green lasers in his eyes. They put their hands on my producer as they tried to push us out. Two people came to me in close range and shoved a flashlight in my right eye. Then someone ripped my cameraman's headset off his camera and threw it on the ground. Needless to say, it was intense.

Police issued several warnings declaring the gathering an unlawful assembly, then began charging and arresting people -- at times beating protesters on the ground. Twenty-nine people were arrested, two of whom had loaded handguns.

The "protests" happening now in Portland are in stark contrast from where we were a month ago. They are small and violent. No longer do we see the Wall of Moms, Dads and Vets.

More and more people in Portland feel strongly that the protests are not about BLM anymore. The message of racial justice, equality and police reform is being drowned out by anarchy.

Sunday night's protest drew just hundreds -- not thousands. Same thing the next night, but this time they lit fires in the street outside what they believe to be Mayor Ted Wheelers home.

ABC News Correspondent Kayna Whitworth reports from Portland, Oregon, August 31, 2020.
ABC News

In speaking with protesters last month, I was told over and over again, "this is NOT what BLM is about." They consistently condemned violence. I was reminded of this as we watched a young Black man put out fires started by white anarchists outside the Federal Building.

"That's not why we are here!" he yelled.

In Portland, the Federal Building is being cleaned and the downtown park is mostly cleared out. The burned elk statue is being refurbished. Businesses have started to reopen -- some buildings proudly displaying BLM art on the plywood covering their windows.

Will the governor's plan to bring in state police and officers from surrounding counties work?

We shall see. Perhaps the real change will start when the violence ends and when the community forums turn from conversations into actions.

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