Hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the legal precedent that constitutionally guaranteed access to an abortion, protesters took to Eugene’s streets.
On Friday, June 24, people rallied at the Wayne Morse Federal Courthouse and marched through downtown for reproductive rights. The late Friday afternoon rally had police stopping traffic for protesters, but a separate protest that night saw Eugene and Springfield police use aggressive tactics against the crowd outside of Dove Medical, a faith-based “pregnancy diagnosis clinic.”
Planned Parenthood Advocates organized the afternoon event with speakers including Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle, who’s now running for Congress, and Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon Board of Directors member Karmen Fore. Both urged the crowd to keep fighting for abortion access and warned that Oregon is not safe from losing reproductive rights.
About 1,000 people were in attendance, and after the rally, the protesters marched through downtown Eugene, circling back to the federal courthouse. Outside the courthouse, protesters blocked traffic on 8th Avenue and Coburg Road, and a driver in a car with a Blue Lives Matter bumper sticker drove slowly through the crowd, despite the danger of hitting someone.
Officers in a Eugene Police Department squad car chased the driver, but EPD spokesperson Melinda McLaughlin says via email that because none of the protesters pressed charges, the driver went free.
A separate protest called “Night of Rage,” took place outside of the boarded up windows of Dove Medical Center. It was a part of a nationwide protest organized by Jane’s Revenge, a group the Department of Homeland Security has deemed a “violent extremist group.”
The protest started around 10 pm and went on until about 2 am.
Mia Storm, who lives not far from the clinic, later told Eugene Weekly she heard several police cars arrive and left her home to see what was happening on 11th Avenue and Ferry Street.
She says nobody was being violent, and that the protest at times was more like a block party. It was less about Dove Medical and more targeted on the police being there, she says. “They weren’t violent. How I know that is because police officers didn’t disperse the crowd. They just wanted them out of 11th Avenue,” she says of the early part of the protest.
According to a June 24 press release from EPD, police monitored the “Night of Rage” protest due to potential property damage of Dove Medical, as well as general safety. EPD said some protesters were throwing rocks and were putting on gas masks. EPD also reported that DHS was at the protest to assist them.
EPD arrested 10 protesters, nine of whom were charged with disorderly conduct and the 10th with harassment. One of the Planned Parenthood event’s speakers, Paris Woodward-Ganz, was arrested at the Dove Medical protest. McLaughlin says the agency won’t comment on its tactics from Friday night, as there are upcoming court dates.
The atmosphere changed when Springfield Police Department showed up, Storm says. “It was well known by people on the ground that Springfield police hit first,” she says, though protesters were still nonviolent. She says she later saw a police officer hit and shove a protester several times. “He wasn’t there to de-escalate,” she adds.
Since 2020, SPD has been criticized by two consultants, both paid for by the city of Springfield, for failing to conduct itself professionally and using excessive force inappropriately. And the city of Springfield is being sued by Black Unity protesters, a Black Lives Matter-related group, for the police response to the July 29, 2020, protest in Thurston.
Zak Gosa-Lewis, SPD public information coordinator, says via email that officers had body-worn cameras and that the officers who were there had “advanced crowd control training.” He says that SPD’s policy is to review reports and camera footage, but it also reviews public complaints on excessive force.
As the night progressed, Storm says EPD used its LRAD sound cannon, but the message it blasted was to tell protesters to get off the street, not to declare a riot. She adds that the police tactics could have started a riot, which she says was clear when EPD called in Springfield. Police also fired empty PepperBall shells, usually filled with a pepper spray powder, from paintball-like guns
The police response to a protest responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling against the right to choose adds to a country whose rule of law is now questionable, Storm says. “What you’re seeing is a mentality of, ‘I can harm you,’” she says. “And that is not a normal thought process for a government.”
This article has been updated.