PORTLAND • Wearing bike helmets and yellow T-shirts, America’s mothers are confronting federal agents in combat gear to protect anti-racism protesters in Portland and, soon, other US cities where President Donald Trump has vowed a crackdown.
“Wall of Moms” groups have formed in at least six cities including New York and Chicago in the four days since mainly white suburban mothers in Portland started forming human walls in front of demonstrators.
Carrying signs like “Feds stay clear. Moms are here”, and “I’m so disappointed in you – mom”, the women in Portland, Oregon, have been shoved and tear-gassed by agents. Some fathers have joined the mothers, bringing leaf blowers to blow away tear gas.
Images of federal agents in camouflage whisking away Portland protesters in unmarked vehicles last week mobilised the mothers.
Protests against racial injustice have rocked the largely white city for nearly two months since the death in police custody of Mr George Floyd, an African American, in Minneapolis.
The deployment of federal agents in Portland last week is a flashpoint in a national debate over civil liberties and what demonstrators and local officials see as a political ploy by Mr Trump, who is facing an uphill re-election battle.
“This was a call to action. I was honest, and I said I didn’t know how to protest but I knew something had to be done,” said Ms Bev Barnum, a 35-year-old Portland mother of two who used Facebook to organise the group’s first demonstration of several dozen mothers.
Carrying sunflowers, large peace symbol cut-outs and signs like “You need a time-out”, hundreds of mothers now link arms on the front line of nightly protests at the city’s federal courthouse, braving tear gas and other non-lethal munitions.
Mr Trump threatened earlier this week to send FBI and other federal agents to other cities to help crack down on a surge in violence in recent weeks. The programme, known as Operation Legend, began in Kansas City, Missouri.
A Wall of Moms group in Washington called on mothers to gather at the “March Against Trump’s Police State” on Wednesday.
Chicago organiser Katje Sabin, 57, said her group had been asked to attend a Saturday protest. “If we have these groups of mums in yoga pants standing there, people kind of behave a little better,” she said of police who she believes want peaceful protests but get “all excited and threatened and scared”.
This was a call to action. I was honest, and I said I didn’t know how to protest but I knew something had to be done.
MS BEV BARNUM, a 35-year-old Portland mother of two who used Facebook to organise the group’s first demonstration.
Portland’s mothers had thought officers from the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies would not use force against them at their first demonstration on Sunday at the courthouse. They were wrong.
“We got gassed and that was the most heinous, excruciating experience in my life,” said Ms Barnum.
The Wall of Moms movement carries on a tradition of maternal activism, notably the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires who held weekly vigils for nearly three decades to spotlight the disappearance of their children under a military dictatorship.
Meanwhile, drones have been banned from flying near federal buildings in Portland, with officials saying they believe federal officers have been surveilled by drones during protests against police violence, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman said on Wednesday.
The Federal Aviation Authority has banned drone flights below 305m within 1.85km of Portland’s Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building and the US Federal Courthouse at DHS’ request, officials said.
These buildings have been a focal point of protests for several weeks, and the federal government has come under criticism in recent days for its tough response to the protests.
In New York, police cleared a camp of anti-racism protesters and homeless people from outside city hall on Wednesday, after Mr Trump threatened to send federal agents to bolster law enforcement in America’s largest city.
The city’s officers – accompanied by cleaners and lawyers – dismantled the tents just before dawn, driving away around 50 demonstrators without clashes or injuries, police chief Dermot Shea told reporters.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE