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‘I’ll Never Forget’

Warren native shares story of Portland protests

Photos submitted to Times Observer by Molly McDunn Molly McDunn, a 2008 graduate of Warren Area High School, traveled from Ellensburg, Wash., to Portland, Ore., last week in order to experience the demonstrations first-hand.

Throughout the summer, Warren native Molly McDunn has closely followed the protests and public campaigns for social justice that have gripped the country and her new home state of Washington.

Unrest and demonstrations in Seattle and nearby Portland, Ore., in particular has garnered national headlines as protests have spread across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

McDunn had originally planned to visit Seattle to bear witness to history, but a change of plans ultimately led her to Portland on July 27 along with her boyfriend.

Traveling southwest from their home in Ellensburg, Wash., the couple arrived in Portland on Monday, walking downtown to Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse.

At that time, the courthouse and nearby Chapman Square were the site of protests and clashes with federal law enforcement for the 60th consecutive night.

In addition to the national Black Lives Matter movement and public demonstrations against police brutality, many in Portland were also demonstrating against the presence of federal officers.

“These people clearly had a cause, and I 100% understood it in a whole new light,” McDunn said. “Clearly that was a huge part of the protests, they wanted the feds out.”

That evening McDunn listened to speeches by organizers of the demonstration.

“They finished (speaking) and a lot of the protesters left, but a lot of them stayed,” McDunn said. “We watched that, we stood back. People were upset and people were angry about what is going on. I understood it in a whole new light. I understood their cause.”

One of the things that struck McDunn the most was the mix of people that had gathered together under common causes.

“I saw not only the moms there, I saw healthcare workers, doctors, nurses,” McDunn said. “I saw people who were disabled, in wheelchairs. It just blew my mind the amount of people I saw, and what their causes were.”

While observing from an area adjacent to the main crowd later that evening, McDunn and her boyfriend were able to witness an example of what has concerned many about responses to the demonstrations in Portland.

“I’ll never forget, I was right next to this man in a wheel chair, and we both got tear gassed, my boyfriend got tear gassed, the press got tear gassed,” McDunn said. “There were at least six children in the crowd that I saw, all got tear gassed. In front of the courthouse there is this little park and they set up this whole area for feeding the houseless and anybody who wanted to eat. Ribs and hot food. They tear gassed that, completely ruined all the food, everything. There was a little (medical) tent there, that got tear gassed. We were standing back about half a block and I was OK, I had college chemistry lab goggles on, but my boyfriend only had his glasses on.”

The solidarity of the crowds that McDunn saw for the first time earlier in the evening continued after tear gas was deployed. Witnessing night-after-night of clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement, some of those in attendance in Portland were ready to lend a hand.

In addition to some members of the crowd blowing tear gas away with leaf blowers, some were prepared to help in other ways.

“There were so many people offering to help us, I think there were at least three people offering to clean our eyes out,” McDunn said. “I will never forget that. I will never get that image out of my eyes, of (my boyfriend) on the sidewalk on his knees with me pouring water over his face. I was just a bystander, I was not in the main crowd there. I stepped aside. I still got tear gassed just for witnessing the event. I couldn’t believe that they were tear gassing the press, that was another thing.”

McDunn stated that a major reason for her decision to visit Portland was to get the facts on the ground for herself. To see what was really happening beyond the headlines and social media posts.

What she saw shocked her.

“I never thought I would get tear gassed for witnessing historical events happening,” McDunn said. “I never thought I would see children get tear gassed. I never thought I would see suburban moms, dads, veterans, the press, people in wheelchairs next to me (get tear gassed). It didn’t matter who they were. It didn’t matter and that is really scary. They showed no concern for anybody else there.”

According to the Associated Press, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown reached a deal with the Trump administration to withdraw federal troops from the city later in the week, reducing tensions in the area as demonstrations continued.

The report said that on Friday after the agreement was reached “the first nightly protest in weeks ended without any major confrontations, violence or arrests.”

McDunn’s experience will remain with her for a lifetime, and so will the memories of the people who were there alongside her.

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