October 28, 2011 by David Gillaspie
The Portland Hard Squad dresses for conflict, not fashion.
They don’t show up in their black hockey gear to intimidate, but one look at them is enough for most people to feel change is coming.
These aren’t negotiators, or SWAT – SERT guys, or the Air Support Unit. These policemen train to advance shoulder to shoulder, when ordered, to sweep areas like Chapman and Lownsdale squares where Occupy Portland camps out.
If you’ve seen the movie 300, or The Gladiator, you get the idea how a wave of human power rolls. The high tide of shields and helmets don’t wait for the moon like the oceans, they wait for the GO signal from the mayor’s office.
The end results aren’t stuntmen in movie make-up. It’s friends and neighbors following their heart; it’s policemen doing their sworn job.
- What follows is a series of Occupy conversations from Portland, Oregon. First, a Portland Policeman.
Q: You are a Portland Police officer?
Q: What would you do if you had Mayor Sam Adams’ authority to clear the occupied areas?
A: We have a team ready to move. I’m on the Hard Squad. That’s what we call it when we put on body armor.
Q: The Hard Squad?
A: When we come out it seems to agitate the crowds, so we’ve been on-call.
Q: Like a waiting room?
A: More like a ready room. We’ve been geared up to go a few times, but never got the call. It’s a lot of overtime.
Q: Sounds like an expensive way to deal with Occupy Portland.
A: You’ve heard the cost of repairing the parks?
Q: $19,000 is the number in the paper.
A: Some of the parks crew, the guys on the street, say it’s over a million. The pipes are broken or jammed and they’ll have to tear up the road to get to them.
Q: So what would you do if you had Mayor Adams’ job?
A: That’s second guessing. I was a Marine. If you’ve been a Marine, you know the drill, the chain of command. If he gives the GO, we line up and head into the park. If people sit in protest we open a gap for officers behind us to come in and pick them up. If we have active resistors in the crowd we’ll deal with them in front of us.
A: We don’t expect it, but we’re prepared. We go home at night.
- A conversation with a suburban policeman:
Q: Do you have Occupation people in your town?
A: Not yet.
Q: What happens when they show up?
A: We’ll follow orders at that time.
Q: What would you do with the Occupy Portland campers downtown?
A: They haven’t broken the law, have they?
Q: They’re camping in a city park. They’re climbing on statues and hanging rope and signs. Is that breaking the law?
A: I’m a cop, not a lawyer, but it sounds like defacing public property and making a public space unavailable to the public.
Q: What’s the solution?
A: Put the bracelets on and take them out in an orderly fashion. But it’s never that simple.
- A Conversation with office workers near the Occupy Portland campsite.
Q: What stops you from walking away from your desk and pitching a tent in the park?
A-1: My bills. My rent. My responsibilities. I’ve got student loans to pay.
Q: What would it take for you to let it go and move off the grid?
A-2: Maybe a general strike that my bosses join.
- Conversation with an Occupy Portland camper.
Q: What surprises you most about Occupy Portland?
A: I’m sort of embarrassed to say.
Q: Is it the poor camping skills?
A: A lot of the people here seem like they’ve never camped before, but no, that’s not it.
Q: Are you worried about the police?
A: Maybe I should, but no.
Q: That you’re here when you should be doing something else?
A: I belong here. This is a statement I want to make with my life. I want to bear witness with Occupy Portland, Occupy Wall Street, and the rest.
Q: I can see that. So what’s been the most surprising thing you’ve seen so far?
A: Okay, I got up this morning and saw someone sweeping the walkways. I know it’s stupid and doesn’t mean anything, but it was so sweet to know someone cared enough to do it.
Q: Sweep the sidewalk?
A: When you say it, it sounds so small. But it’s one of those small steps that makes a difference. We want to change the country and I see a guy sweep the sidewalk and feel like we’re doing it one step at a time.
Q: Maybe sweeping is a small thing, but you noticing it makes a difference. Thank you.