City Commissioner Randy Leonard visited the Portland Peace Encampment on Thursday afternoon to notify campers that the city plans to 'escalate' its tactics to force the removal of the Encampment. The camp is a non-violent protest against the American war on Iraq that has been ongoing for 24 hours per day since the US military invaded and occupied the nation on March 20.
Since that time, the camp has evolved from a straight peace protest to draw attention to the constitutional rights to freedom of speech and assembly. Occupying sidewalk space on SW 4th Avenue directly across from City Hall for 24 hours a day has also led the Encampment to become a voice of resistance against Portland's anti-camping ordinance and the city's so-called 'sit-lie' ordinance, both designed to prevent Portland's poor from occupying space in the downtown core and within the city.
Homeless individuals and advocates have called both ordinances unlawful and derided them as an effort to rid the city of people that Portland business interests call 'undesirable'.
Multnomah County Judge Stephen Gallagher ruled the anti-camping ordinance unconstitutional in a September 2000 court ruling. Gallagher ruled that given the city's lack of shelter space, the ordinance violates residents' freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Because Gallagher was a circuit court judge and the case was not taken to an appeals court, the ruling is not binding outside of the specific court case.
Commissioner Leonard refused to say what he meant when he told members of the Peace Encampment that the city planned to 'escalate' its tactics to remove the camp. Since the Encampment was formed in March, Portland police have used all manner of tactics to intimidate and harass campers, including at least four arrests on charges ranging from interference with a police officer to failing to obey. Police have also made a pattern of visiting the Encampment during early morning hours to seize property, frequently failing to provide property receipts to property owners.
Tellingly, the city has not charged a single person with violating the anti-camping ordinance, though as many as 25 homeless persons have slept on the sidewalk in front of City Hall on a single night.
"It's going to get a lot worse," campers quoted Leonard as saying during his Thursday visit. Though Leonard did not elaborate, campers said the commissioner made it clear that he was speaking of an increase in police and city confrontations with not only the Peace Encampment, but also against homeless Portlanders in other parts of the city.
Peace Encampment members have issued a call for any interested city residents to visit the Encampment with video cameras and cameras to document police misconduct.