Organizer of moms who built wall to protect Portland protesters says group was tear-gassed by feds

A peaceful Navy veteran was also caught on camera being hit and pepper-sprayed after trying to talk to authorities

By Igor Derysh
Published July 20, 2020 3:57PM (UTC)
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Federal officers use tear gas and other crowd dispersal munitions on protesters outside the Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17, 2020 in Portland, Oregon. Federal law enforcement agencies attempt to intervene as protests continue in Portland. (Mason Trinca/Getty Images)

A group of mothers joined the demonstrations against police brutality in Portland after videos showed federal officers tear-gassing and snatching protesters off the street, only to be met with gas and flashbangs themselves.

Portland has become a flashpoint of President Donald Trump's deployment of federal authorities in response to protests over systemic racism across the country. Local and state leaders have demanded that Trump withdraw the federal officers, who are from the Department of Homeland Security, Custom and Protection's Border Patrol Tactical Unit and the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group, after protesters were filmed being detained in unmarked vans.


The weekend's protests drew dozens of women, who said they were mothers seeking to protect demonstrators.

"Feds stay clear! Moms are here!" the group was heard chanting in a viral video.

The women interlinked arms to build a human wall around protesters.


"We are about protecting peaceful citizens' right to protest," organizer Bev Barnum told BuzzFeed News.

The women stood outside a federal courthouse on Sunday. Federal law enforcement deployed "CS gas," or tear gas, at protesters in the area, according to the Portland Police Department.

Another video showed a group of moms rocked by a flashbang grenade thrown by one of the officers.


Barnum told BuzzFeed News that some of the moms were treated for exposure to chemical irritants after the confrontation. None of the women were arrested.

Barnum said the women organized online after sharing a video showing federal officers silently placing a protester into an unmarked van.


"Protestors are being stripped of their rights by being placed in unmarked cars by unidentifiable law enforcement," Barnum wrote on Facebook. "We moms are often underestimated. But we're stronger than we're given credit for. So what do you say, will you stand with me? Will you help me create a wall of moms?"

"We'll be out until no protester needs protecting," Barnum told BuzzFeed on Sunday night.

Another viral video showed authorities beating and pepper-spraying 53-year-old Navy veteran Chris David after he confronted them.


"Enraged" by seeing federal officers policing protests, David told CNN that he went to talk to a group of them.

"I was going to ask why they weren't living up to their oath of office, the Constitution," he said. "All I wanted to do was ask them, 'Why?'"

David said the officers responded by repeatedly hitting him with their batons.


"I was hoping they wouldn't shoot me, because one had a weapon pointing it right at my chest. I'm relieved that I only got hit by batons and pepper spray," he told CNN. "The baton hits weren't the issue, but when they used pepper spray it was over. It felt like they dumped a gallon of burning gasoline on my head."

David said he broke his hand in the confrontation and plans to have surgery next week.

Local leaders have condemned the presence of federal officers at the protests. A memo obtained by The New York Times showed that the officers were deployed, even though they do not have "training in riot control or mass demonstrations."

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum filed a federal lawsuit aiming to stop the Department of Homeland Security from participating in the "kidnap and false arrest" of citizens.


Trump declared last week that the federal officers were there to "quell" the vandalism of federal property. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said their presence has had the opposite effect.

"Their presence here is actually leading to more violence and more vandalism," he told CNN on Sunday. "And it's not helping the situation at all. They're not wanted here."

Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is a staff writer at Salon. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

Tips/Email: Twitter: @IgorDerysh

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Aggregate Black Lives Matter Chad Wolf Donald Trump Oregon Politics Portland Tom Wheeler