PORTLAND -- Hundreds of Occupy Portland protesters marched through downtown streets Saturday and the event escalated into a confrontation with police.
Officers arrested one man and pepper sprayed more than a dozen protesters.
“High school kids were maced in the face for walking in the streets,” Austin Piccone, a protester yelled across the street at Portland police officers.
Tensions grew after a peaceful protest turned into complete chaos.
About 12 to 18 demonstrators got pepper sprayed in the face mid way through a march in the Lloyd District. The clash happened between police and protesters near Northeast 15th Avenue and Northeast Halsey Street.
“We tried to go in one direction and they tried to block us and as soon as they saw that we weren’t going to stop moving that direction, they just instantly started spraying us,” Piccone said.
Among the crowd was a group of Cleveland High School students including Jesse Rapoport and Quetzal Brock.
“I could not open my eyes for the life of me, and I didn’t know if I was going to fall down and get kicked because the whole crowd was rushing around me and the cops were breaking through,” Quetzal Brock said.
“Probably half of the people that got sprayed were 16,” Jesse Rapoport said.
Portland Police Lt. Mike Marshman said demonstrators tried crossing the police line onto heavier traffic.
“A row of folks behind the shields and two or three rows deep of people started pushing against the line of bicycle officers, pushing into them and having some minor, minor injuries to the officers on the bikes,” Marshman said.
Marshman said that’s when they took action.
“If you want to have a march, that’s fine. Work with us to get a permit and we can work on a route. When that occurs we provide all the traffic control and safety measures for you but it’s an unpermitted march, you’re not supposed to be on the street. We don’t know what the route is, we can’t facilitate safe movement with all the traffic. That’s a problem. We’re concerned about the safety,” Marshman added.
Nearly 350 protesters continued spilling onto the streets. About 150 officers were on scene including mounted patrol. Bystanders could only watch.
“It’s just stupid. I just want to get home what is it about I don’t even know,” Lloyd Nash from Gresham said.
Demonstrators said they’re marching against austerity.
“Austerity basically means budget cuts essential services, no consideration of raising taxes on the wealthy, no consideration of raising military spending, basically cutting entitlement for people,” Nicholas Caleb, a protester with Portland Action Lab said.
But that message may have been lost in the mix when the calm turned to chaos.
“I’ve never been hit before, this time I got a few times in the face. It was definitely a first experience with that,” Piccone said.