Protesters line 19th Way in Forest Grove on Tuesday, June 2. Photo: Chas Hundley
FOREST GROVE – Around three hundred people gathered at the base of Forest Grove’s famed large flag just east of Safeway between Maple and Laurel Streets to protest police brutality against black Americans Tuesday afternoon.
The protest — and hundreds of others across the nation and now world —was spawned by widely shared videos of a white officer, Derek Chauvin, pinning George Floyd, a black 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 Chauvin is now facing third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter charges.
Xochitl Contreras, the main organizer of the demonstration, said the protest was planned on Monday. Contreras posted the details of the protest on various social media pages, and it was spread from there by others.
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But before this larger protest, Contreras said, she and her mother had been protesting, at first alone, before others joined them.
“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, who says she is a lifelong Forest Grove resident.
“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.
Protesters in Forest Grove on June 2, 2020. Photo: Chas Hundley
Rumors of a counterprotest swirled before the demonstration began, said Contreras, and the Forest Grove Police Department made contact with the group.
As of 4:30 p.m., no organized counterprotest had materialized. Two white men stood in the Safeway parking lot and heckled anyone walking toward the protest, and our reporter on the ground noted a handful of passing motorists flipping off the demonstrators.
On site, Interim Forest Grove Police Chief Henry Reimann was the only law enforcement member on duty.
“It’s hard to put into words,” Reimann said when asked what he thought of the protest. “I like it, I think the group here is doing a great job. They’re sending their message and doing it very well. “They’re behaving themselves and hopefully, this generation will really finish what they started in regards to trying to make social change,” he said.
As for what the Forest Grove Police Department’s response to the message behind the protest might be?
“I don’t think anything will change,” said Reimann. “We’ve always tried to review what we do on a regular basis, the training we do, the community outreach that we do, we try to meet with the community on a regular basis with different organizations to get their perspective on how we can do things better, because we definitely probably have our blind spots just like any other organization.”
“Historically, Forest Grove has always turned to the community to get further ideas and try to get a report card on what we’re doing and what we can do better,” he added.
While Reimann was the only law enforcement officer on the scene, a few blocks to the west several police vehicles from the Forest Grove Police Department were staged in the Elks Lodge parking lot, waiting to see if they were needed at the protest, according to Forest Grove Police Department public information officer Mike Hall.
A Washington County Sheriff’s Office vehicle briefly joined the Forest Grove officers, but according to a spokesperson for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office was not asked to help cover the protest and that the Washington County Officer had likely just stopped to talk with his Forest Grove counterparts.
“When I did this, I wasn’t sure how many people would join, but we see there’s about 300 people,” said Contreras. “I think if you have an idea and there’s something that you want to do, you should go out and do it.”