The initial response to police at the “Mississippi Red House” on Tuesday was frantic and ad hoc.
“We’ve heard people banging outside (on doors) for neighbors to come out and support the cause,” said William Travis, who has lived in the area for 50 years.
The fate of the small red house on North Mississippi Avenue was pledged by socio-judicial activists who have been camping on the property in recent months after Kinneys, a black and indigenous family living there for decades, lost the foreclosure.
But after the multnomah county sheriff’s deputies and Portland police arrived to “re-secure” the developer’s home, which is planned to be demolished, the protesters quickly organized – and received confirmation.
Police, hoping to avoid further inflammation of the situation, left the scene on Tuesday morning after intense clashes with protesters, giving activists the opportunity to take over the house and surrounding area.
Then Brad Ness, another longtime resident of the neighborhood, arrived with plenty of protesters piled up on the street, anchored to body armor and knee pads.
Ness said he watched for hours as a truckload of trees, car tires, fences and other materials were laid down on the fortifications that now block the street around the red house.
The occupiers seem determined to keep the cops away by piling up homemade shields and other protective gear. Rocks and bricks were piled up and homemade thorn strips were laid to stab the tires of vehicles that violated the barricades.
Their blockade stretches two and a half blocks from North Skidmore Street to Blandena Street, along Northern Mississippi and Albina Avenue, with groups of black-clad guards deployed at intersections.
Mayor Ted Wheeler has said he will not allow protesters to create an “autonomous zone,” similar to activists built in Seattle last summer. He said he authorized police to “use all legal means to end the illegal occupation” in the North Portland gentry area.
So far, the police have stayed away. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell videoed Wednesday morning to participants in the barricade zone: “Leave it behind. Put down your weapons and let the community get back to order, ”he said.
Lovell tweeted another statement in the afternoon, saying Portland police “share the community’s concerns about the barricades, occupation and criminal activity in northern Mississippi”.
“We are aware of the stockpile of weapons and the presence of firearms; we are aware of the threats from the community, the media, the police. … Portland police are enforcing the law and forcibly restoring order in the area if necessary, ”he wrote.
But activists on the ground show no signs of let down their guards or plan to leave.
Protesters and the Kinney family held an afternoon press conference in front of the Red House and asked the public to stand with them.
“Help us occupy this land,” said Ragina Rage, an activist and community organizer. “Help us do this so we can protect the families who will be doing it.” Other black and brown families will be targeted because of the anti-blackness that exists in this … system. “
Protesters have been developing a collective sense of purpose since the streets were closed. Within the barricades, a group held a prayer circle on Wednesday morning. Demetria Hester, a prominent black activist, protested against police violence and systemic racism during protests in Portland last summer.
“The world is watching us,” Hester said in the prayer circle, adding, “It is our duty to continue to fight with all our breath, soul, and heart.”
Watching the scene, William Travis said the blockade of the street “really makes the neighbors and residents uncomfortable, but the protests are uncomfortable”.
For his part, Brad Ness, a former local resident of Travis, believes the city is handling the situation badly.
“I can’t understand why Wheeler and (the police) allowed them all day to confirm the thing,” he said of the barricades. “This is ridiculous.”
He said the city should bring in “big snow plows” to clear the street and scatter activists and campers. – That will be necessary.
Meanwhile, others in the area are trying to make their day. The popular Albina Press Café, right next to the occupied area, remains open and has a lively business.
A woman who said she lives only a few doors north of the barricade avenue said police have been noticeably absent from the area since Tuesday morning and that barricades have become increasingly stratified during this time.
“Honestly, I think it’s weird,” he said. “It’s definitely causing weird tension in the area.”