Christopher J. David had largely ignored the protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, but when he saw videos of unidentified federal agents snatching protesters off the street and throwing them into rented minivans, he felt compelled to act.
Mr. David, a Navy veteran, said that using violent federal agent tactics against demonstrators without the support of the mayor, governor, or local law enforcement agencies was a violation of the oaths that agents take to assist, maintain, and defend them Constitution.
So he took a bus downtown on Saturday to ask the officials how they would agree their actions with this oath.
Instead of receiving an answer, Mr. David was hit with a truncheon by a federal official while another poured pepper spray on him. according to video footage of the encounter. After moving away from the confrontation, Mr. David was taken to a nearby hospital, where a specialist said his right hand was broken and needed surgery to install pins, screws, and plates. He declined pain medication.
“I didn’t pay attention to the protests until the government came in,” David said in an interview on Sunday evening. “I became aware of that.”
In response to Minneapolis police killing George Floyd, demonstrators have been on the streets of Portland for more than 50 consecutive days. The arrival of federal officials in the city has revived the demonstrations, which continued on Sunday evening, with tear gas, which was used again by US agents.
Mr. David, a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former varsity wrestler who has lived in Portland since 2006, said he had previously only participated in one protest – a march for women’s rights in Washington, DC in 1989. As a 53-year-old man with Health concerns said the coronavirus risk was reason enough to stay away from downtown Portland.
“It just didn’t seem worth it to me at the time, but it reached that threshold when I saw our own government behave like Pinochet,” he said, referring to the Chilean dictator.
After making a decision, Mr. David grabbed a backpack with some essential items – migraine medicine, nicotine chewing gum, wallet and ID card – and took a downtown bus that arrived near Mark O. Hatfield’s U.S. court around 8:15 p.m. .
The courthouse has become a focus of the demonstratorsas well as the federal agents for homeland security who were posted for protection. However, the response from these agents in Portland has led to a backlash of whether the officials are out of prison and violating the rights of demonstrators by detaining protesters in the Federal Supreme Court area.
There were stains on Mr. David’s backpack that reminded him of his time as an officer in the Navy’s Civil Engineering Corps and served in the construction battalions – the famous ones Seabees.
He also wore a heather gray sweatshirt with the blue word “Navy” on the top and a ball cap for the academy’s wrestling team. He wanted the officers to know by sight that he was a veteran and someone to talk to.
“I identified hell for a reason, I want to give them a break so we can talk,” he said. “So I wanted to go there to tell them that I believed they were not obeying the Constitution. That was my goal. “
At 10:45 p.m., David was about to return home when some demonstrators started removing the fences around the courthouse and federal officials showed up. He made his way to a group of federal agents.
A video by Zane Sparling, a reporter for The Portland Tribune, recorded what happened next. Officers in camouflage and gas masks slapped Mr. David in the face with batons and blasted pepper spray. The shaky cell phone video shows how he briefly pushes the official’s hand with the spray can off before turning, walking away and defiantly throwing up the middle fingers of both hands. He turned and looked at the officers again, raising his middle fingers even higher – although a blow with a truncheon had just shattered his dominant right hand.
Internet users quickly called him “Captain Portland” because he hardly flinched at the beatings. Some people noticed that he was 6 feet 2 inches taller than the officers, and compared him to the Game of Thrones character known as the mountain. On twitterHe had a handful of followers before the encounter and more than 54,000 on Monday.
“My life has gotten pretty dramatic,” he said.
Sergio Olmos, Mike Baker and Zolan Kanno-Young contributed to the reporting.