On April 18, Benjamin Smith was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to murder, attempted murder, and assault following his shooting of unarmed women in Portland’s Normandale Park in February 2022. The politically-motivated attack killed June Knightly and injured four others as the women supported a racial justice demonstration. Despite ample evidence that Smith, a vocal supporter of Nazis and opponent of the Black Lives Matter movement, was the aggressor in the incident, the Portland Police framed the event as a confrontation between an armed homeowner and armed protesters.
Survivors of Smith’s assault refuted the police narrative, stating that Smith approached them aggressively, far from his residence, and shot them at point-blank range. These survivors emphasize that their group had experience in de-escalation and were not actively protesting but were waiting to help direct traffic for the racial justice march.
The Portland Police’s misrepresentation of the incident is part of a broader pattern of ignoring, excusing, or facilitating far-right violence while criminalizing the political left. This bias was particularly evident during the Trump years, as far-right groups like Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys regularly appeared in Portland. In each instance, the police’s enforcement efforts focused almost entirely on left-wing counterprotesters.
Examples of this bias include police not attempting to disarm Proud Boy Alan Swinney when he pointed a gun at a crowd in August 2020 and not stopping Trump truck caravans from driving through the city and attacking bystanders. In contrast, police have consistently tried to discredit antifascist activism, such as spreading false rumors about quick-drying cement in vegan milkshakes at an antifascist dance party.
This pattern is not solely due to individual officers’ prejudices but is indicative of a tendency within policing itself. As the central function of the police is the preservation of existing inequalities, especially those related to class and race, their actions often lean towards the right and exhibit hostility towards the left. This rightward tilt is apparent in the violence they enact, the violence they allow, and the lies they tell.