Don't Shoot Portland Trial Day 3: Defense Witnesses Take the Stand

Kyle Curtis Facebook

“Teressa Raiford is the fiercest defender of peace in the city!”

Don't Shoot Portland Trial Day 3: Defense Witnesses Take the Stand

Teressa Raiford and her attorney Matthew McHenry catch their breath before calling their next witness.

Due to leaving Judge Michael Greenlick’s courtroom early yesterday and arriving late this morning, I missed testimony provided by the state’s witnesses in support of the disorderly conduct charge against Teressa Raiford, founder of local racial justice group Don't Shoot Portland. This is unfortunate, because although I observed today’s testimony provided by witnesses called in Raiford’s defense, I didn’t have the state’s competing narrative to compare against.

A jury trial pits two carefully crafted narratives that provide conflicting interpretations of the same set of facts. In the case of Raiford’s disorderly conduct, the state is incumbent to prove—beyond a reasonable doubt—that Raiford was intentionally engaging in disruptive behavior by purposefully obstructing traffic to be a “public nuisance.” Without being able to hear testimony provided by police officers present at the August 9, 2015 Black Lives Matter protest, I’m unable to determine how effectively the state made its case and can only view the defense testimony on its own.

During yesterday’s jury selection process, I was concerned that the final make-up of the six-member jury (and one alternate) would fail to result in a jury of Raiford’s peers. Not necessarily just because I consider Raiford to be peerless, but how difficult it would be to provide a “jury of peers” for one of the most high-profile members of the local Black Lives Matter movement in lily-white Portland. Indeed, of the pool of 22 potential jurors, there were only three people of color—two of which were ultimately dismissed. (Despite the heavily white-leaning pool of potential jurors, Raiford admitted she was “not really concerned” about the eventual jury’s make-up.)

Along with my doubts that a nearly all-white jury would be unable to provide peers for one of Portland’s most vocal racial justice activists, I was also concerned of the impact that a series of witnesses from a Black Lives Matter protest. How would the jury respond to testimony provided by a series of defense witnesses that didn’t look like any of the jury members?

Ultimately, my concern was misplaced. Besides the appearance of first witness John Slaughter—PCC's girl’s basketball coach and a peer of Raiford’s in Portland’s Black Lives Matter movement—all of the day’s witnesses for the defense were white.

Eleven Witnesses--And There Could've Been More

Eleven witnesses were ultimately called to provide testimony in support of Raiford. As Raiford’s arrest occurred shortly after approximately 100 protestors blocked off the intersection of Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street for over four minutes, I was curious as to how the final list of witnesses was decided—when clearly many more witnesses could be provided. “I wanted a healthy cross-section of those who attended the protest that day,” Raiford’s attorney Matt McHenry explained during the lunch break. “I wanted people who knew Teressa well, and others who didn’t really know her at all.”

This “healthy cross-section” certainly made itself apparent as the defense witnesses took their turns on the stand. Some had certainly known Raiford as a community activist “for many years,” while others simply knew who Raiford was, but did not know her personally. “We’re friends on Facebook, does that count?” asked one witness, eliciting laughter in the courtroom.

Despite the range of familiarity the defense witnesses had with Raiford, the testimony they provided formed a narrative of the day’s events. A panel discussion was held on August 9, 2015 at the Jade/APANO Multicultural Space to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of 18-year old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri. During the panel discussion, the decision was made to bring the attendees outside and block the nearest intersection of Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division, and “hold” the intersection for four-and-a-half minutes, a symbolic number that matched the number of hours that Michael Brown’s body lied in the street.

Contrary to the line of questioning provided by Prosecuting Attorney Eamon McMahon, defense witnesses made it clear that Raiford wasn’t the leader calling for the group to exit the JAMS building and occupy the intersection. “We all decided to go into the intersection as a group,” testified Laura Vanderlyn, who shot the 22-minute video that was repeatedly shown throughout the trial.

The Point Was To Be Seen and Heard

When McHenry asked if the group of protestors would’ve gone into the street even if there were no cars, each witness responded in the affirmative. Why? “All lives matter. But black lives matter. And we needed to say that,” Slaughter testified. “The point was not to block traffic. The point was to be seen and heard.”

When McMahon challenged that the occupation of the intersection caused an inconvenience and public nuisance for the vehicles in the intersection, including a Tri-Met bus, he received an emotional response from Michael Mintz, an environmental justice activist. “So the people on the bus had to wait ten minutes before going on their way,” Mintz responded in a raised voice that almost seemed equally on the verge of both laughter and tears. “We are talking about traffic being blocked for ten minutes while young black kids are being shot and killed!”

Dr. Kathryn Kendall was asked by McHenry to explain a series of photographs she had taken at the day’s protest. Kendall described one picture taken of three children in the intersection: “The whole day was an art day, and the children were showing off their art!”

McHenry showed Kendall another picture she took of three adults in the intersection. “Would you say these people look angry?” McHenry asked, eliciting a sharp laugh from Kendall. “No—they look engaged!”

After occupying the intersection for four-and-a-half minutes, the crowd of protestors returned to the parking lot and sidewalk in front of the JAMS building, continuing to chant to passing cars. While most of the crowd was on the sidewalk, a few participants spilled over onto the south side of Division. “The sidewalk was really packed with people,” Mintz testified. “There was only so much room.”

Not Interested in Anyone Besides Her

Each of the witnesses agreed that Raiford was one of a number of protestors who remained in the street opposed to being on the sidewalk. Besides leading call and responses, Raiford worked with others in the street to encourage the crowd of protestors to stay on the sidewalk. “We were both standing in the street, leading the chant ‘Black lives matter! Get on the sidewalk!’’ testified Slaughter, pointing out that Raiford was doing the exact same actions he did.

Most witnesses agreed that a line of police cars formed on the north side of division “about five minutes” after the crowd of 100 protestors had removed themselves from the intersection of Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street. Although Sgt. Jacob Clark had testified the previous day that he did warn Raiford to get out of the street or risk getting arrested, defense witnesses described a contingent of police officers cross the street and head directly towards Raiford. Facing the crowd that she was continually reminding to stay on the sidewalk, Raiford had her back to the police officers and was caught by surprise when they arrested her—for not being on the sidewalk. “[The police] went directly to Teressa,” testified Sarah Taylor, who had met Raiford one other time at an earlier Black Lives Matter event. “They were not interested in anyone else in the street besides her.”

“There was a plan happening,” agreed Vanderlyn. When prompted by McHenry to explain further, Vanderlyn explained: “[The police] came in so deliberate and slowly, diagonally crossing the street in a formation.” Filming video, Vanderlyn instinctively stepped into the crowd to avoid having her camera taken away. “That was when I realized they weren’t interested in the crowd, but were only interested in arresting one person.”

John Slaughter was equally blatant with his suggestions of the police officer’s intentions that afternoon. “Activists don’t believe in conspiracies. Every action has a purpose. If the police were actually doing their job, they would’ve arrested everyone in the street.”

Very Dignified. Very Quiet.

The defense witnesses were in different parts of a large group of protestors, with varying distances and views of Raiford being arrested and led across the street, a point McMahon hammered on during cross-examination. Vanderlyn’s video was repeatedly used by the prosecution to point out how loud the chanting (which was also supported by rhythmic drumming) was at the time of Raiford’s arrest. McMahon contended that it was nearly impossible for the witnesses to see or hear Raiford’s interactions with the police either at the time of the initial arrest, and most definitely not after she was led across the street and led into the police car.

McMahon’s contention was repeatedly challenged by defense witnesses. Ari Divine, a licensed massage therapist and self-proclaimed “expert” on body language, pointed out that although she couldn’t hear what Raiford was saying to the police, it was clear that her posture did not signal any resistance.

When McHenry asked Dr. Kendall if Raiford was belligerent in any manner towards the police as she was being arrested, Dr. Kendall replied by saying, “Heavens, no. [Raiford] was very dignified. She was very quiet and moved her hands in a manner that made it easy for the police to arrest her.” McHenry pushed further—did Raiford at any time yell at the police? “Her mouth was shut the entire time,” Dr. Kendall responded. “I’m not sure how she could’ve done any yelling.”

Jonah Major, one of the police liaisons at the August 9, 2015 Black Lives Matter protest, also rebuffed any suggestions that Raiford would act in a belligerent or confrontational manner towards the police officers who arrested her. “Teressa Raiford is the fiercest defender of peace in the city!”

Raiford herself is the final witness to be called by the defense, and she will take her turn on the stand on Thursday morning.

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