Portland woman who protested rightwing rally says she was burned by police grenade | US news | The Guardian

7 Agosto 2018 0 Di ken sharo

A woman who protested against a rightwing group rallying in Portland, Oregon, has been left with severe injuries to her arm and chest after being hit by a police “flash-bang” round.

Michelle Fawcett, 52, said she was about half a block from the front of the counter-protester gathering, as they opposed rightwing group Patriot Prayer’s rally, at about 2pm on Saturday when she was hit.

“I heard the most earth-shattering explosion,” she told the Guardian. “I felt struck in the chest, then the arm, and then a really intense and searing pain.”

When Fawcett, a documentary film-producer, later saw a doctor, she was told she had severe soft tissue injuries and third-degree chemical burns on her arm and chest. Fawcett shared with the Guardian photographs of her injuries and her doctor’s report that describes chemical burns.

The police tactics at Patriot Prayer’s latest rally, which again brought disorder and violence to the city’s downtown area, have been questioned after officers charged counter-protesters with batons drawn, used dozens of flash-bang stun grenades and rounds containing pepper spray.

Fawcett said she believes she was hit by the first of the stun grenades to be fired and said she did not hear any warnings.

Portland police chief Danielle Outlaw has announced an inquiry by the Office of Independent Police Review into the police’s use of less-than-lethal weapons. In a statement, Outlaw said the inquiry would “determine if force was used and if so, was within our policy and training guidelines”.

Asked about Fawcett, a police spokesman said: “The Portland police bureau asks anyone that witnessed or was injured during the protests to contact the Portland police bureau non-emergency line at 503-823-3333.

“We continue to investigate all incidents related to the protest. Community members may also contact the Office of Independent Police Review.”

Portland police sent hundreds of officers in riot gear to the rally, and for most of the day they kept supporters of Patriot Prayer, led by Republican US Senate candidate Joey Gibson, and supporters of another group, Proud Boys, separated from their opposition.

Patriot Prayer’s stated beliefs are not neo-Nazi or white supremacist, but critics say the group’s events have attracted white supremacist elements and have frequently brought serious violence to cities on the US west coast.

Fawcett had been talking to a friend, Dan O’Donnell, when she was hurt. “I heard Michelle scream, and we all ran,” O’Donnell said. He said “dozens” of flash-bang explosions followed.

The crowd that fled included middle-aged people like him and Fawcett, and others in their 60s, he said.

A supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer argues with counter-demonstrators on Saturday.
 A supporter of the far-right group Patriot Prayer argues with counter-demonstrators on Saturday. Photograph: Terray Sylvester for the Guardian

“Within a second it was war zone,” Fawcett said. “It just caused a sensation of total panic, because I just didn’t know what I should be doing.”

She found another friend, who called over volunteer protest medics. With Fawcett in a running crouch, and still hearing flash-bangs exploding behind them, the medics moved her a few more blocks west, and treated her in the alcove of a building.

The medics thought she had fractured her already swelling arm, and decided to evacuate her in a car.

Fawcett wanted to be taken to a hospital in Portland’s inner north-east, where she knew her insurance would cover her. Confused, she had the medics drop her off at a spot she thought was just a block from the hospital, but turned out to be two miles away.

Still disoriented and bleeding, she called herself a car service for the remainder of the journey. An hour elapsed between her being shot and being admitted. X-rays showed no fracture, but a doctor told her she had chemical burns, a diagnosis which is reproduced in Fawcett’s medical record of the visit.

According to Fawcett, local doctors don’t know what kinds of ordnance Portland police employs. She said the doctor told her: “We don’t know what the chemicals are, because we don’t know what the device is.”

“The doctor told me that I had been violently assaulted, and that I should be prepared for trauma,” she said. She added that and while she had been trying to keep herself composed, “I have been crying at times.”

“Why should we expect this at a peaceful protest?” she asked. She said the day until then had been marked by little more than speeches, marches, and chants.

On Sunday, Portland police said that their less-lethal weapons attacks were provoked by protesters’ “violent and assaultive behaviour” – in particular their use of projectiles. This has been disputed by protesters and journalists.

Live video from the news website Unicorn Riot appears to show projectiles flying only after the police move in to clear SW Columbia Street, where Fawcett was standing.

Other video from the event appears to show police directing their fire towards protesters on a flat trajectory, and moving in on journalists and others filming events from a sidewalk.

Fawcett said: “I didn’t see anybody doing anything, other than maybe some chanting. I wouldn’t have been having a casual conversation, as a non-violent middle-aged woman, if people had been throwing things nearby.”

“The point is that it was totally indiscriminate,” Fawcett said. “They fired, and clearly they had no idea what they were firing towards.”

On Sunday morning, Portland police said six kinds of “riot control agents and less-lethal impact munitions” had been fired into the crowd, including 40mm “impact rounds” whose diameter would be consistent Fawcett’s injuries.

Later the same morning, Outlaw announced the review into the policing of the rally.

Police in riot gear at the protest.
 Police in riot gear at the protest. Photograph: Terray Sylvester for the Guardian

Last Friday, Mayor Wheeler announced that Outlaw would be taking personal command of the police response at Saturday’s rally.

Oregon Council on American-Islamic Relations and Portland DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), who both participated in the counter-demonstrations, issued a joint statement calling for police reforms.

Oregon ACLU’s Sarah Armstrong said the police’s “repeated use of excessive force” was “completely unacceptable in a free society”.

On Saturday, Patriot Prayer’s supporters seemed happy with the way in which Portland police handled those who had shown up to oppose their rally. One of the group, Tusitala ‘Tiny’ Toese, said: “The cops did their jobs and we’re proud of them.”

Earlier, as police fired flash-bangs at counter-protesters, Toese and the rest of the 400-strong Patriot Prayer group had chanted from across the street: “Lock them up, lock them up.”

Fawcett said Saturday’s events will long be a source of pain and confusion. “Police are supposed to protect people from violence,” she said. “When it’s the police who assault you, where do you go? Does anyone know?”

Patriot Prayer’s events attracted widespread attention in the last month after an event in Portland on 30 June that culminated in some of the worst street violence in the city’s recent history.

Saturday’s crowd of more than 400 was one of Patriot Prayer’s biggest to date in a series of over 30 events held in the Pacific north-west and northern California during the life of the Trump administration.

Sorgente: Portland woman who protested rightwing rally says she was burned by police grenade | US news | The Guardian