State Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, visited the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland twice last week.
What he saw there disturbed him.
He told The News-Review that on the first night he went, he saw more than 100 people he identified as antifa dressed in full black uniforms with body armor and black helmets, and some protesters were throwing explosives at the justice center building where the protest was taking place.
There was loud drumming and repetitive chanting he felt was designed to wind people up.
Most of the 1,000 or so protesters on the street right in front of the justice center were peaceful, he said, but they were listening to speakers talking about what sounded to him like racism against white people.
A few spoke about love, unity and coming together, but he didn’t think they received as much response from the crowd.
He said he witnessed people in a park directly behind the main street protests assaulting each other, sitting in clouds of marijuana smoke and using hard drugs. For the first time in his life, he saw women being beaten up.
He said his heart broke for the people there.
“As repulsed by the behavior and the hatred as I was, I had to leave the park several times and go about 100 yards away outside of any of it just to catch my breath,” he said.
“It was just too miserable. It was just too awful. It was like being in hell. It’s just the ground wasn’t on fire,” he said.
He visited on two evenings last week, a Tuesday and a Friday. On the first day, he said there were park benches and port-a-potties, and pizza, hot dogs, and racks of ribs were being given out. Friday, those amenities had disappeared, along with much of the drugs and violence.
Heard said none of what he saw at the protests seemed to him like a solution for the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
The most effective route to police reform, Heard believes, is to go after the police unions that make it difficult to discipline or fire bad police officers.
Heard sits on a joint legislative committee tasked with proposing police reforms for Oregon, and he has drafted a bill he hopes will make that change, working with a Democratic legislator who’s a member of the People of Color Caucus and representatives from law enforcement.
He said top members of law enforcement management have told him of several cases where they have attempted to fire an officer because they determined the public was not safe with them wearing a badge. Then the unions stepped in.
“In cases where they had terminated people, they were brought back to full employment with full back pay. It literally just equated to a long vacation,” he said.
Heard said he worries that messaging from Black Lives Matter that’s negative toward white people might draw a backlash on the African American community. And he said it’s hurtful to children of all races.
“We are allowing extremism like we’ve probably just about never seen in this nation start to gain traction and take root. Hating anyone for their skin color is, it’s just evil,” he said.
Heard said the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. wouldn’t have wanted that.
“He said he longed for the day when his children would be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin. He pushed for true equality, not this ‘I’ve got a grudge and I hate my neighbor and so we’re going to flip this around so I can get even,’” he said.