Protesters line 19th Way in Forest Grove on Tuesday, June 2. Photo: Chas Hundley

WASHINGTON COUNTY - In the span of one week, cities and communities in Washington County saw at least 20 protests decrying police brutality in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, from cities as small as North Plains to the county seat of Hillsboro.

According to data obtained from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, that agency was aware of 19 such protests in the county from June 2 through June 8; at least one more small protest not listed was held in front of the Forest Grove City Library on June 8.

There may be even more protests not included in the county data. 

All of those protests have proceeded peacefully, much like the vast majority of protests across the state. Among those protests, the sheriff’s office notes, only one incident occurred: A driver in North Plains was given a warning during a traffic stop at a protest on Friday, June 5.

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These protests — and thousands of others across the nation and now world —were spawned by widely-shared videos of a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pinning George Floyd, a black 46-year-old Minneapolis man to the ground with his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd repeatedly gasped “I can’t breathe” before falling unconscious. Officers had been responding to a report that Floyd had allegedly attempted to pass a counterfeit $20 bill.

Floyd died shortly after falling unconscious, and four police officers are now being charged in his death.

According to the county data, Forest Grove has been especially active, with 6 protests in total, including the June 8 protest not listed. 

Most, if not all, of those protests in Forest Grove were organized by Forest Grove resident Xochitl Contreras.

“My mom and I actually came out last Thursday and it was just her and I in front of the Forest Grove library, then it grew to about 7 people the first day, the next day we had about 30 people, today is our third day, and we have all of these people,” said Contreras at a Tuesday, June 2 protest at the base of Forest Grove’s famed large flag just east of Safeway. 

“What started it on Thursday, is we woke up, we were heartbroken, we were so upset about what was going on in the country. We felt like we couldn’t just sit anymore. We had to get up and do something. So we painted these signs, and we stood out for three hours and we received a lot of support,” said Contreras. 

More protests are ongoing and planned; a protest and march in the city of Banks is planned for Friday evening, marking the first such protest in Banks in the wake of Floyd’s death. 

“I plan on bringing my children, I wanted to allow this event to occur in Banks, because I know a lot of people are not comfortable going to Portland to protest,” said Banks’ protest organizer Christina Barackman, a Banks resident. 

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office and other agencies in the Portland Metro area were swift to denounce Floyd’s killing, releasing a joint statement on May 28. 

“We stand together as law enforcement professionals in the Portland Metropolitan Area to condemn the tactics and actions demonstrated in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is our job to protect life and increase public safety within our communities. The incident in Minneapolis does not reflect our value of the sanctity of life or the code of ethics we have sworn to uphold. It is disheartening when the actions of so few tarnish the noble profession that we have dedicated our lives to. We are committed to maintaining and strengthening the trust of our communities who grant us the privilege to serve them,” the statement read in full.

And because the news comes fast, it would be only four days later that the sheriff’s office would place one of their own deputies on leave after a racist email from his past surfaced, which in turn prompted a reopening of a 2018 use of force case described by the sheriff’s office as “concerning.” 

That deputy, Rian Alden, was charged with Official Misconduct in the First Degree, a class A misdemeanor, on June 5.