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A Gunman Killed BLM Protesters. Why Did Police Blame the Victims?

Two years after an attacker shot five volunteers before a Black Lives Matter march in Portland, Oregon, killing a 60-year-old woman June Knightley and leaving one of her young friends paralyzed, a new visual investigation of the attack reveals that the assailant dared three women to fight him, before suddenly opening fire when they refused, reports the Guardian. The accumulated evidence flatly contradicts what Portland’s police chief told the public and city council staff in the days after the attack: that the gunman, 43-year-old Ben Smith, had opened fire only after he had been confronted by “armed protesters”. That false characterization of the unarmed victims as aggressors, which was repeated in dozens of local and national news reports, remains uncorrected on the website of the Portland police bureau (PPB) even today.

The attack took place on 19 February 2022 before a march in north-east Portland to demand justice for two young Black men killed by police officers in Minneapolis, Daunte Wright and Amir Locke. The protesters were unarmed, but Smith tried to provoke a "stand your ground" situation by yelling at them to make him leave. Moments later, Smith pulled out a concealed semi-automatic pistol and started shooting. A volunteer armed guard for the protest shot Smith in the hip, and as Smith received emergency medical care, the guard noticed that underneath he was wearing a T-shirt with the phrase: “Kyle Rittenhouse is a true patriot.” It remains unclear why the Portland police bureau published a statement on its website stating that a preliminary investigation into Knightly’s murder indicated that the conflict was started by “armed protesters”. Smith himself told detectives he was never confronted by armed protesters. Survivors remain convinced that antipathy toward the protest movement led the police to cast the victims as suspects in initial public statements.


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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