An idealistic student experiences the unrest in Portland.
I’m Gordon O’Soybe and I’m one of those people who can feel content in most situations. A bus ride is no different. I’m sitting here and I’m content. No one aboard’s got anything to say but the guy beside me looks like he could be my older brother. Perhaps we’ll be friends. Plenty of comrades on the bus and right now we’re bumping along. Got the bellychain on complete with hinged handcuffs but I’m doing alright. It’s all kind of exhilarating in a way. You can call me Antifa. You can call me BLM. My Mom calls me a nut but she’s very Irish. Truth is I’m a student and occasional activist. When I see something’s wrong, I try to put it right. It’s landed me in trouble before, and sure has this time, but I said it on my Twitter feed, and I’ll shout it to the sky.
“I am not afraid.”
On Friday, I’d come down to Portland from Seattle to meet my girl Penny. I’m at Pacific University—she used to be at Concordia. Penny had to drop out of her degree program when her father died, and she needed to look after her mother and sisters. The rest of her family aren’t working but Pen got a job in a grocery store in the bay area. She’s permanently broke and it’s a miracle she was able to join me this week.
Pen had a dream of finishing her degree and going on to the London School of Economics. Since that didn’t work out, she’s turned quiet. Real quiet. I never met my own dad so in a way we were kindred souls. I had to pay for her bus ticket on my credit card. Promised myself I’d take Pen for a dinner the next day, then I’d cut that card in two. I haven’t told Penny yet, but I’ve been traveling heaps since this all began and I’m maxing my cards. Not sure how I’m going to stay solvent next year.
We left the hostel and made our way over to the federal courthouse, not with bad intentions, but because of what happened to George Floyd and our generation has a responsibility to call it out. As we got closer to the courthouse, the power went out on the entire block before flickering back on. It was like the sun had set on the old world. Our time is now. The pop and rumble of angry voices and minor explosions rang out through the night. More comrades joined us. Some wore ski masks, helmets or goggles, others had on full gas masks. Pen and I exchanged a smile then took out our bandanas and obscured the bottom halves of our faces. She helped put a knot in mine at the back of my head after it got caught in my dreads. We pulled our beanies on.
Turning into Lownsdale Square Park was like stumbling into an electrified block party. The plaza was pretty much in bits. Grass had been kicked and trodden on until it was no more than a long sweep of dust. The stench of tear gas and pepper spray hung in the air and Pen almost coughed her guts up. A comrade gave her some water and we were okay to continue.Last month in Minneapolis things got totally out of hand but being on my own I hadn’t hesitated to go scorched earth on the enemy. In Portland however, me and Pen played it safe. Really, we were happy just to be there and watch.
Some kids bopped and danced, waving laser pointers, the beams slicing the sky before comrades would steady themselves and take aim at feds lined up across the buildings. I saw a fed drop to his knees, his hands pressed against his eyes to the hoots and screams of the brothers and sisters all around. Why shouldn’t the brothers hit back? That fed would kill them all if he had the chance. Looming over all of us, a huge image of George Floyd projected onto the boarded-up windows of the Multnomah County Justice Center. Pen and I stood very still in absolute respect to think about George and how he died. I nudged Pen and pointed to three black brothers guarding a group of moms as they prepared to form a human chain. My ears filled with the pounding of drums and the chants of, “Black lives matter!”
And yet I couldn’t take my eyes off those three brothers guarding the moms. They wore berets, wrap-around sunglasses and black panther style uniforms. Standing side by side and motionless, the trio emanated pure dignity. Another explosion cracked the atmosphere and people scattered, but I could only smile for in those three comrades I saw the future. I saw them over me. Somehow above me. That courthouse, the venue commanded by the white patriarchy whose predecessors traded slaves in the filthiest act of history that infected their white DNA, leading them to imprison black men and women at such a rate it destroyed communities. We had gathered and were protesting to give everything back to a community who’d lost so much. I’d never respected the seniority of any man, but I was happy to look up to those three warriors for that was our true moment to fight back. To show the world we wouldn’t be walked on by anyone.
They fired rubber bullets; Pen gasped and grabbed my arm as a cloud of tear gas descended. Not twenty metres away a pack of shadowy figures were advancing. Riot cops. We scuttled away as a black-clad swarm of comrades wielding shields and hockey sticks swept past us and charged the cops. My eyes burned, I could barely breathe as I stumbled through the graffitied and detritus-strewn street. When my vision cleared, I turned to get eyes on Pen but the last thing I saw was a police baton swinging towards my head.
48 hours later
East Oregon Correctional Facility
Gordon O’Soybe sits quietly and alone in the holding pen, waiting to be processed then transferred to the main population. He feels no fear and no remorse. For two months he’s handled himself in the street protests so a few days of prison will be a piece of cake. The whole thing has to be a mistake anyway; in Portland he’d been little more than an observer. Hadn’t so much as thrown a stone. The other comrades on the prison bus have been remanded in police custody. With the stations overflowing they’ve been dropped off at different precincts here and there, but Gordon alone has landed in this remote jail probably not far from the border with Wyoming. Gordon really has no idea where he is or what’s going on.
The cell door buzzes open. A wiry clean-shaven man, late thirties and going bald, enters the cell and the door remains open. In an almost elegant fashion, he lowers himself onto the bench opposite Gordon. “Mr. O’Soybe, I wanted to see you.”
“You the governor?”
“No. My name is Harris. I’m a federal liaison officer.” Slowly, using his index fingers, he smooths out his eyebrows, then catches Gordon’s stare. “You damn young fool.”
Relief sweeps over Gordon and he takes full advantage of the chance to put his case forward. “I was picked up in the protests, but I did nothing and shouldn’t be here. How long until I’m released?”
“That depends on you.”
“I need some breakfast. When is it served?”
“You need breakfast. We need some names.” Harris takes out a cigarette case, lights one, crosses his legs and exhales before offering Gordon a smoke. Gordon declines and Harris says, “So you want to change the world. I understand.” He taps his cigarette. “Where your type go wrong is you blame history and governments. The strong and clever will always rise to the top.” With a wry smile he says, “Even in here.”
For the first time Gordon feels a little sorry for himself and there’s a faint sense of pleading when he asks Harris, “Can you at least tell me why I’m here?”
Harris lets out a long sigh and replies, “You were in Minneapolis last month. A couple of detectives from the Minnesota Federal Bureau of Investigations will be here in the morning. You going to cooperate?”
“Well that’s disappointing.”
“That block you razed. It was some sort of collective. Old black women pooled their money and bought a row of shops. You burned it to the ground.”
Gordon decides not to think about that night and the lunacy he got swept up in. He keeps his expression blank and remembers his rights. “The lawyer was an idiot. I want a new one.”
“That has to go through channels but shouldn’t be a problem. It will of course, take time, but this is nothing to do with me. I’m not even officially here.”
Gordon sees the steel in Harris’ glare and realizes he’s dealing with a ruthless individual. “Who are you?”
“You think those shop owners who lost everything don’t have sons? One of their sons is in here. And he’s what you might call a very big dog. Part of a network of prison gangs running through the entire nation. He pulled a lot of strings to make sure anybody suspected of involvement in the ruination of his family winds up right in his cage.”
Gordon feels a bolt of tension paralyzing his legs and his breathing momentarily freezes.
“They need to keep the peace in here. When you’re questioned tomorrow, will you cooperate?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
“I’m going to ask you one more time. Will you cooperate?”
A cockroach scuttles across the floor.
“I said go fuck yourself.”
Harris scoffs. “I had to try. Governor’s gotta keep the big dog and his pups happy.” Harris stands and heads for the door. He turns and says, “Those detectives tomorrow will fill you in on your extradition to Minnesota. Will take a while though. Meanwhile, make it easy on yourself son. I hear the gentleman who wants to visit with you is HIV Positive. The nurse will attend to you in a couple of hours.”
“And you’re about to find out that black lives really do matter.” Harris shakes his head and exits the holding cell.
Why don’t they shut the door?
Gordon wants that cell door shut and bolted more than he has ever wanted anything. And then he hears it. A trilogy of footsteps, slapping the floor in unison, pounding louder and louder, echoing through Gordon’s head as they march his way. He has to run and he makes a break for it—then freezes. In the doorway are two hulking black men and a smaller accomplice. One has tattoos coloring his throat and reaching over his jawline, like creeping evil. The largest of the three has arms like chunks of wood lined with thick purple veins. The slighter man looks ill. His eyes watery and face gaunt. All three prisoners are wearing smiles and sweaty uniforms.
“No,” whispers Gordon.
He’s grabbed and launched through the air. Laying on his back he hears the celldoor buzz shut. He sees them over him. Somehow above him. They pounce. “No,” he screams, “No!” This is his true moment to fight back. To show the world he won’t be walked on by anyone. “Get off me.” His trousers and boxer shorts are ripped off as powerful arms pin him face-down to the cold stone floor. He writhes and curses inside their grip, snarling, “I said get off me you filthy niggers.”