Kinsey Smyth has been attending protests in Portland since they began 69 days ago. She quit her job to become part of the cause after the death of George Floyd ignited protests worldwide. While she said the intensity of the protests have ebbed and flowed, she said she’s experienced everything from “beautiful demonstrations” to “extreme police brutality” while in the streets.
The presence of federal law enforcement in the city, which has recently been scaled back, had turned the area outside the city’s federal courthouse into a violent ground zero on many nights, with officers pepper spraying largely peaceful protesters, shooting pepper pellets into the crowd and using tear gas, according to numerous accounts from protesters.
Last week, though, it was announced that all Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers would be removed from downtown Portland and state and local police would take their place, reducing the amount of federal agents in the area. Smyth, 23, said the last few nights had been peaceful, but it’s not clear if it will last.
“We have seen a more hands-off approach (by police) in just the last couple of nights,” Smyth told Inside Edition Digital. “It seems to be a lot different in terms of their approach. … I am not entirely should what that means.”
Smyth said she initially started attending the protests more that two months ago because she “couldn’t focus the whole week” after George Floyd, 46, died while in custody of police in Minneapolis. She’d never protested before, but something shifted when she saw what happened to Floyd.
“I attended that first vigil and just felt so affected and involved and I saw these little pathways in which I could contribute some of my experience to help prevent this from happening,” Smyth said. “I just started to go to those nightly protests that kept happening downtown.”
It was at those protests that Smyth met like-minded individuals and decided to found the Portland Civil Rights Collective. The organization hopes to engage the community and bring activists together who are making a difference. They are still ironing out the details of what that looks like.
“I've personally done a lot of just supporting other efforts in the last few weeks and just seeing who needs resources and trying to get those resources there,” Smyth said. “It requires almost an entire village to put any of these things on.”
Some of Smyth experiences at protests haven’t been good, she said. While most of the protesters have been peaceful, there have been a few “agitators,” but not enough to warrant the strength of the police response, Smyth said.
“What I have experienced when met with the extreme force of our police and our law enforcement, it has been very traumatic,” Smyth said. “If there has been any form of something that agitates the officers, every person is in danger, every single person. And I've just witnessed people being hit with objects that are coming, these munitions that are considered non-lethal, but they are so damaging that they also could be considered lethal if hit the wrong way.
"And these things that, there's no action being taken on the side of the protesters that would cause nearly the harm that is being caused upon us,” she continued.
Smyth also said she experienced being teargassed for the first time in her life and described it as “debilitating.” Earlier in July, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler attended a protest and was tear gassed, which he called a “egregious overreaction” of federal officers.
“It's a debilitating weapon,” Smyth said. "It should not be used on nonviolent citizens, and at this alarming and consistent rate.”
The protests have swelled from just a few hundred some days to thousands on others, but Smyth is hoping they don’t die down.
“This is about Black lives,” Smyth said. “This is about marginalized humans. This is about brown, Indigenous humans. But it's also about everyone. When we empower the most vulnerable, we are empowering all of us. We are deepening the sense of humanity.
"And it's important because we as humans deserve rights, and we deserve them to be upheld by this country that speaks on these, that writes constitutions on these, that these are written in our law and we need it to apply to everyone.”