What it's like to be a black police officer on the front lines of Portland's nightly BLM protests

There have been a seemingly endless series of Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, some of which eventually get declared riots as the protesters get out of hand. One week ago KGW8 was on hand for a press availability where Officer Jakhary Jackson was questioned by Lt. Tina Jones about what it’s like to be on the front line of those nightly protests. His responses were eye-opening to say the least.

“I got to see folks who really do want to see change like the rest of us that have been impacted by racism,” Jackson said. He continued, “And then I got to see those people get faded out by people that have no idea what racism is all about. Never experienced racism. They don’t even know that the tactics that they are using are the same tactics that were used against my people.”

He added, “Coming from someone who graduated from PSU with a history degree it’s actually frightening…They say if you don’t know your history you’re doomed to repeat it. And watching people do that to other people just because of what they’ve decided to do with their life.”

Asked for an example, Jackson said people of color will frequently come up to speak to him during protest to ask him what he thinks about the death of George Floyd or some other issue. But inevitably when he tries to engage with these people, “someone white comes up ‘F the police. Don’t talk to him.'” Jackson said that after a while he could see it coming.

When a young African-American girl came up to him at a recent protest to ask why he wouldn’t speak to the protesters he said he started to explain that every time he tried to do so a white protester would cut him off. Jackson said, “right when I said that this white girl pops right in front of her.” The girl was amazed and said, “He just said that was going to happen.” Jackson said to the girl, “I told you.”

Jackson then said to the white girl who had interrupted, “I’ve been called the N-word. She’s been called the N-word. Why are you talking to me this way? Why do you feel that she can’t speak for herself to me? Why is it that you feel you need to speak for her when we’re having a conversation?” The white girl replied, “Someone told me to do it.”

But it hasn’t been all conversations. Officer Jackson described some of the other experience he’s had with protesters: “I had taken an explosive, I had been hit with a full beer can, a rock in my chest, frozen water bottle had hit me” and after all of that he met two young black men who were out cleaning up the street. “I was so moved by that and so impressed,” Jackson said. He went over to shake their hands.

At that point the interviewer turned to “some of the hateful and racist things” that Officer Jackson and other officers of color have experienced during the protests. “It says something when you’re at a Black Lives Matter protest; you have more minorities on the police side than you have in a violent crowd,” Jackson said. He continued, “And you have white people screaming at black officers ‘you have the biggest nose I’ve ever seen.’ You hear these things and you go ‘Are these people, are they going to say something to this person?’ No.

“And that’s just one example. Having people tell you what to do with your life, that you need to quit your job, that you’re hurting your community but they’re not even a part of the community. Once again you as a privileged white person telling someone of color what to do with their life.” The interviewer suggested it was “hypocrisy” and Jackson agreed “absolutely.”

Jackson also took offense on behalf of some of his fellow officers who are white. He said he’s seen these officers jump in when someone has used the N-word toward him. He’s seen them try to save black residents of the city in dangerous situations where people’s lives are at risk.

“When you’re standing on the line and they’re getting called those names and they’re being accused of being racist when you’ve seen those officers helping people of color, getting blood on them trying to rescue someone who has been shot—gang violence, domestic violence—and you see them and they’re truly trying to help save someone’s life and they they turn around and are called a racist by people that have never seen anything like that, that have never had to put themselves out there. It’s disgusting.”

There’s a lot more in this interview including a Q&A section at the end.