Thursday, April 21, 2016

Not Guilty: Jury Acquits 'Black Lives Matter' Protester of Obstructing Cars
Teressa Raiford and her attorney, Matthew McHenry, raise their fists into the air Thursday, moments after a Multnomah County Circuit Court jury acquitted Raiford of a second-degree disorderly conduct charge. McHenry represented Raiford for free.

Aimee Green
The Oregonian/OregonLive
April 21, 2016 at 6:53 PM

Black Lives Matter protester Teressa Raiford pumped her fist into the air and beamed Thursday moments after a Portland jury unanimously acquitted her of a single charge of criminally obstructing traffic during a protest last August.

"It means that we beat the police," Raiford told The Oregonian/OregonLive, as a crowd of supporters surrounded her to offer congratulations.

During a three-day trial, Raiford had contended that she was lawfully protesting and that five police officers caught her by surprise when they suddenly crossed Southeast Division Street near 82nd Avenue, appeared behind her and arrested her while she was leading a crowd of 100 in chants.

Prosecutors had argued that Raiford committed the crime of second-degree disorderly conduct, which is a misdemeanor, by intentionally obstructing traffic. Prosecutors said Raiford was free to protest on the sidewalk instead of the street, but she chose not to.

During a 22-minute YouTube video, Raiford can be seen as one of dozens of protesters stepping into the busy intersection on Aug. 9, 2015, at about 3:10 p.m. The protesters brought lines of cars and a TriMet bus to a halt for about seven minutes, before stepping back onto the sidewalk.

A short while later, the video shows that Raiford was one of a smaller number of protesters who were in one of the traffic lanes of Southeast Division Street. She can be seen pacing roughly 4 to 6 feet from the curb as she leads the crowd on the sidewalk in chants.

Raiford is the founder of the Don't Shoot PDX movement, which began in August 2014 after a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot an unarmed African American teenager named Michael Brown. Raiford's group was marking the one-year anniversary of Brown's death on the day of her arrest.

Jurors deliberated for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. Multnomah County Circuit Judge Michael Greenlick presided over the trial.

The verdict offered vindication to Raiford and other members of the Black Lives Matter movement, who point to the trial as evidence of police bias and abuse of power.

Raiford said she hopes the verdict sends a message to police to listen up because protesters won't be stopped: "Leave us alone. Stop targeting black people in Multnomah County. ...End racial violence. End excessive force. Stop profiling."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon applauded the verdict.

"The right to protest is one of the core freedoms that our country was founded on, so we had to speak up in this case," said Kelly Simon, legal fellow at the ACLU of Oregon. "The DA and the police endanger all of our rights when they use the disorderly conduct statute to silence protesters."

When reached by phone early Tuesday evening, Portland police union president Daryl Turner said he hadn't heard about the verdict. He declined comment.

In order to have proved their case, prosecutors had to show that Raiford intentionally created public inconvenience or annoyance by obstructing traffic.

During her more than hour on the stand Thursday, Raiford said her goal was not to block traffic but to mark Brown's death with a celebration involving children and art. When prosecutor Jeff Lowe asked her if she was aware she was obstructing traffic by walking out into the intersection with dozens of other protesters, she said she was aware cars had stopped because the safety conscious drivers didn't want to strike the protesters.

Lowe also pointed to a segment of the video, in which Raiford can be heard apparently directing protesters where to stand in the intersection. "We need coverage on this side," Raiford said in the video.

When the prosecutor asked Raiford if she knew she could get a city permit to close down a city street for her protest, she responded: "I know my rights and I know that I don't need a permit to protest."

Sgt. Jacob Clark said that later on in the protest, he noticed Raiford standing in one of the traffic lanes of Division Street. Clark said he twice warned her to get back on the sidewalk or face arrest. Raiford said she didn't hear him give her any warnings. All of a sudden, she said she turned around and discovered the five officers there to arrest her.

"I didn't understand why they were all on me," Raiford said. "...All I saw was a lot of big blue."

Raiford said that as she was being arrested, she told the officers she wouldn't resist and didn't want to engage in discussion.

But Raiford said Officer Susan Billard verbally abused her. According to Raiford, the officer said: "Why are you out here doing this in front of everybody? Why are you out here protesting the police when we're trying to help you. You guys are out their killing yourselves. You're killing each other."

"And I looked at her while she said that, because I couldn't believe it," Raiford said.

Raiford's attorney, Matthew McHenry, criticized police for only arresting Raiford -- and later one other protester after five or six warnings because that protester was practically "begging" to be arrested.

McHenry said police arrested Raiford because she's the leader of Don't Shoot PDX and they didn't like her and her message.

McHenry represented Raiford for free.

-- Aimee Green

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