The Multnomah County’s District Attorneys office is declining to prosecute Demetria Hester, a well-known Black activist and survivor of a 2017 hate crime, who was arrested Sunday night during a short-lived protest outside the headquarters of the police union.
It was the second night in a row in which protesters directed their attention to the Portland Police Association office in North Portland. On Saturday evening, demonstrations lasted for about an hour before a small group of protesters set a fire inside the union headquarters. Police promptly moved in and dispersed the crowd half a mile north into the Kenton neighborhood. On Sunday, the demonstration against police violence and racism lasted about 12 minutes before police declared an unlawful assembly and, once again, pushed protesters north. This time, there had been no attempt by protesters to break into the union.
Portland police reported making 16 arrests Sunday after declaring the protests a riot. Police said in a statement that protesters launched eggs and fireworks, injuring two officers. Police did not use tear gas.
Officers charged Hester with two misdemeanors: disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer. A video of the arrest shows an officer approaching Hester, telling her she’s under arrest and grabbing her by her yellow backpack to guide her away from the crowd. Hester walks with the officer in the video as she is taken into custody.
On Monday afternoon, a spokesperson for the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office said they were declining to prosecute the case and the court would dismiss all the charges against her.
At noon Monday, Hester walked out of the Multnomah County Justice Center, still wearing her red ‘Know Your Rights’ t-shirt. She told a small crowd gathered across the street from the center that she had been arrested shortly after arriving at the police union and had waited in the police van for two hours.
“We just got there. I did nothing, and you just grabbed me,” she cried out to the crowd. “This is what we have to go through just to get justice.”
With her right arm raised and her left hand still clutching the police papers she had been handed with her charges, she led the crowd in chants of “reparations.”
In May of 2017, Hester was attacked by Jeremy Christian the night before he killed two men and severely injured a third on a TriMet MAX light-rail train in Portland.
Hester had been heading home on the MAX Yellow Line when Christian stepped into the car and delivered a racist tirade. When Hester left the train a few stops later, she said he lunged at her, striking her in the eye with a Gatorade bottle. She said she told the police what happened while Christian remained on the platform. Police did not make an arrest at that time.
The next day Christian boarded another MAX train, delivered a similar racist rant and stabbed three people who intervened. In February, he was ultimately convicted of murder and a hate crime against Hester, and received life in prison for the crimes. Hester has said she believes the killings could have been prevented if police had acted on her account of the assault.
Hester, now a prominent voice against hate groups and racism, is the leader of Moms United For Black Lives, an activist group that has become a mainstay at the nightly protests against police violence.
While Hester’s charges have been dropped, it’s not immediately clear what will happen with the other 15 cases from Sunday evening. All of the 16 people arrested Sunday were charged with either disorderly conduct or interfering with a police officer. Four people, including Hester, were charged with both.
A spokesperson for the Multnomah County DA’s office said they don’t yet have an update on the additional cases.
After being released from the Justice Center at 10 a.m. on Monday, Folasade Ogunfiditimi, one of the protesters arrested Sunday, joined the group across the street.
Ogunfiditimi said she’d been part of a group of about 35 who were making their way back to the 7-Eleven store near the police union after officers dispersed the protests when she was arrested. She said she did not find out her charges until around 10 a.m. the next morning when police handed her documents with her charge listed on it: interfering with a police officer.
“I asked him, ‘What am I getting arrested for? He was like, ‘You’re getting arrested,” she said. “I’m like, ‘That’s not an answer.’”