In another wave of Portland resisters, military veterans form a fence between Homeland Security law enforcement and Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
As the “Wall of Vets” emerge in Portland after the high visibility of the Naked Athena protester, the question of who gets protected or celebrated versus those left invisible remains.
Last week, barricade-making veterans participated in Portland’s protests following growing violent tactics used by law enforcement. In response, a group of predominantly white veterans formed a “Wall of Vets,” as a frontline defense between demonstrators and federal troops.
Using their influence, the veterans’ presence was to ensure that federal troops deployed by Donald Trump did not continue to violate the civil rights of protesters. The Wall of Vets comes after ten weeks of protests starting with Black Portlander’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. As harassment and violence by local police then federal troops intensified, a group of matriarchs called the “Wall of Moms,” ushered in a wave of defiance. They too were tear-gassed and assaulted by law enforcement.
As a result, next to show up were leaf-blowing papas who redirected chemical fumes back to officers. Even the mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler joined hundreds participating in one of the many Black Lives Matter demonstrations that have taken place since May. Like other rally-goers, he too was caught in the clash between protesters and federal law enforcement.
Tear-gassing started while Wheeler spoke to Portlanders and reporters by a fence barring demonstrators from the Justice Center federal building. After warning a handful of protesters to not shake the fence or enter the barred space, Trump’s troops dispersed crowds with several rounds of tear gas and sound-emitting devices.
Later that evening, video footage showed a white, male Naval veteran named Christopher David, being hit repeatedly by a federal troop with a baton. Following that incident, the “Wall of Vets” formed. The next night, some veterans donning Black Lives Matter tee-shirts, while others held the American flags or used them as masks, stood at attention in front of thousands of rally-goers.
Entitlement or pseudo-freedom in the freedom of protest
Since, the “Wall of Vets” formation in Portland, chapters around the country are popping up. The veteran contingency in New Jersey says it was inspired by Chris David to support peaceful protests.
However, soldiers testing the limits of citizenship in defense of Blacks lives is not a new phenomenon. Though, it is new at the level of white and other non-Black participation. Previously, Black soldiers stood as the first line of defense for protests from the Civil War up until BLM. In Portland, the mostly-white war veterans take a page from African American military who served on the frontlines of racial justice protests since the 1700s.
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In the past, Black soldiers have been killed or suffered grave consquences for standing against racial discrimination. Like in the history of Seattle, another Pacific-Northwestern city, African American sailors were discriminated against by white city goers and fellow naval military men. When they engaged in a fight with white servicemen that turned into a riot, officials ended up detaining the African Americans. Out of the 36 Black sailors arrested, 13 were convicted.
On the contrary, today’s wall of veterans is being celebrated for being patriotic.
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While news organizations spotlighted Christopher David after footage of his abuse when viral, there have been a number of Black veterans in hundreds of Black Lives Matter protests before.
In 2011, Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas challenged New York police officers to join in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The video footage of his impassioned speech went viral.
During the height of the Colin Kaepernick firing for taking a knee to protest police brutality, a cadre of Black military veterans, some who served in the Vietnam and Korean wars, stood in support.
“I fought for the right for people to protest,” said, Dwight Edwards to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
At the same time, Black veterans have been the victims of police brutality. Former airman, Dreasjon Reed, 21, was killed by cops in Indianapolis in May of this year. He was shot multiple times after a car chase ended on foot.
Last October, Dekalb county officer Chip Olsen, was found not guilty for killing a naked, unarmed Afghanistan war veteran named Anthony Hill. He was 26-years-old.
Like the rise of the Black Lives Matter protests that sprung up across the US in May, the Wall of Vets becoming highly celebrated has one major common denominator: white people, lots of them.
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