About 200 Black Lives Matter-related protesters shine the lights from their phones under a dark overpass in Springfield, Oregon

Black Lives Matter Protests in Springfield

Recent Black Lives Matter protests and police violence in Springfield highlight the need for representation by people of color in that city

Tyshawn Ford was afraid he was going to die. He saw the police push through the crowd, targeting him and the other Black leaders. They grabbed him, pulling him by his legs as he struggled on the ground. He ends up behind the police line, a police officer reaches for his gun as others hold him down. One cop punches him in the head while he squirms and yells under the weight of two officers. He still gets a few headaches here and there from the concussion caused by the blow to the head.

“In that moment I was just thinking, please don’t kill me,” Ford said.  

BU returned to Springfield for a “The Noose is a Nuisance” protest in Thurston on Wednesday, July 29. What started as a march making a statement against a noose found in a Thurston neighborhood, culminated in police overreaction and the arrest of six individuals, including BU leader Ford. 

Protesters unaffiliated with BU came back into Springfield the following night, gathering outside of Mayor Christine Lundberg’s home where she reaffirmed her support for the Springfield Police Department as well as for the protesters themselves — the middle-of-the road answer the mayor provided to the crowd drew criticism from community members like Johanis Tadeo, a candidate for the Springfield City Council’s Ward 3. 

Police began arresting individuals on Wednesday night when, “the crowd, significantly outnumbering officers on scene, signaled their intent to breach our barricades and lines,” Sgt. David Grice said in an email to Eugene Weekly. The barricades were set up to stop the march from continuing on its planned path, a path Ford said the cops did not know ahead of time — BU has a team of bicyclists and cars that use in-ear radios to direct traffic and secure a safe path for protesters.

“Every time we go to Springfield, the police always stop us. They always say it’s an unlawful assembly, blah blah blah,” Ford said. “We’re tired of that. So we came to a decision with our crowd. We got to stand on this because this is our route and this is where we want to go.” 

In a video that was widely circulated shortly after the protest taken by Tre Stewart of the Boop Troop, officers can be seen entering the crowd and pulling out both Ford and another protester. 

Grice said that Ford “was hostile and irate, and the main instigator in the crowd’s refusal to obey lawful orders. The decision was made to remove Mr. Ford from the group.” 

But Ford said they appeared to be targeting all of the Black BU leaders and that they know him and the other leaders from the many other protests BU has held in the area. Three other BU leaders were injured that night, according to another leader, Sophia Kinaya Haug. Police broke one of Duane Robinson’s ribs, gave Jazmine Delilah a bloody nose and broke Martin Allum’s nose, which will need expensive reconstruction. Ford, Robinson, Delilah and Allum are all leaders in BU and believe they were all systematically targeted that night.  

In response to the arrest, BU leadership decided not to return to Springfield on the next night. Instead, former BU members Isiah Wagoner, Moses Jackson and others formed their own anti-racist group, named the Minority Freedom Network, according to Wagoner, and gathered at the Safeway located on Pioneer Parkway and Q Street. 

After thanking those who showed up for sticking with him through the gaffes that led to his leaving BU, Wagoner led the protesters down Pioneer Parkway, stopping in front of a yellow house adorned with four security cameras. This house, Wagoner told protesters, belonged to Mayor Lundberg. 

A few long, quiet moments passed before Lundberg exited the front door of the house she says belongs to her mother whom she lives with. Her Eugene counterpart, Mayor Lucy Vinis, had similar pressure put on her at the end of June when 200 protesters gathered outside her house and peppered her with difficult questions. 

When Lundberg did come out to speak to the protesters, she was met with a subdued crowd — in stark contrast to the more confrontational crowd that showed up at the end of Vinis’ long driveway. Lundberg laid out a few of her plans to combat systemic racism in the Springfield, like her meetings with Professor Danielle Allen as a part of the Bloomberg/Harvard City Leadership Initiative that addresses public health, racism and the economic downturn with city officials across America. She also established the “Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Council” that she says will bring more diverse voices to help decide on a “set of actions and outcomes” for Springfield. 

Lundberg was asked by one crowd member whether she considered July 29’s police response to be misconduct. 

“I am going to say this: I do support our police. But I do support what you [protesters] are doing. My mother would never forgive me if I weren’t on the front lines,” she said.

In a statement released July 30, Lundberg said that an entity outside of the department would be looking at video footage to determine any wrongdoing by SPD during the Wednesday night protest. 

Before moving on from Lundberg’s home, Wagoner asked her to give the crowd a “Black lives matter” to which she responded: “Black lives matter, and all lives matter,” receiving boos and groans from the crowd. She added that folks in the crowd could help the community would be to join her in government by running for City Council to add varied backgrounds into the mix. 

The Springfield City Council is currently made up of six white members. Springfield is 87 percent white with a Latino population of 11.6 percent as of July 2019, according to the U.S. Census.

Johanis Tadeo is one of these people Lundberg might describe as having a “varied background,” coming from a Latinx home and seeing his father taken in an ICE raid supported by SPD back in 1997. Tadeo says he is now running for Springfield City Council’s Ward 3 seat to right some of the wrongs he has seen take place in his community. 

“She did invalidate our experience by saying ‘all lives matter.’ But again, I’m not going to just shame her for that. I understand that it takes time. Especially when you come from a community that’s not your own, and a community that you don’t fear for your life every day, when you’re driving, walking, or even existing,” Tadeo said of Lundberg’s comments

As protesters left the mayor’s house that night, they were met with a number of counter-protesters heckling them, but the interactions remained peaceful. 

The crowd stretched and compressed down Pioneer Parkway as chants were shouted more casually, sometimes one that started in the back would clash with another coming from the front. But the group gathered closely once it reached the SPD headquarters and city jail where protesters chanted the names of those that had been arrested and taken to that exact place the night before. 

Both Jackson and Wagoner took turns speaking to the crowd switching from topics about the problems plaguing the local press that Jackson says vilified him leading to his exit from BU and the unjustified actions of SPD the night before. Wagoner also took a short moment to say he loved everyone there on Thursday night, even the counter-protesters — one of whom voiced his reciprocal love.

The march made its way back to the Safeway, stopping once under Highway 126. Wagoner asked all the protesters to pull out their phones and shine a light in the dark shadow that the overpass threw over the crowd of about 200. They let out a deafening “Black Lives Matter chant” that bounced around the semi-enclosed area, the echo amplifying their shouts for equality.