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I Was Abducted By Federal Agents In Portland

Now I’m suing.

Posted on August 26, 2020, at 4:06 p.m. ET

Nathan Howard / Getty Images

Portland police officers walk through clouds of smoke while dispersing a crowd from in front of the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office in Portland, Oregon, Aug. 22.

My name is Mark Pettibone, and I was abducted by unmarked federal officers in Portland, Oregon. Now, together with the American Civil Liberties Union, I’m suing the Trump administration to hold it accountable for its authoritarian and unconstitutional tactics.

Early one morning in July, I was walking back to my car in downtown Portland after a night demanding justice and accountability for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many other Black lives taken violently by police. Suddenly, an unmarked, dark-colored minivan pulled up in front of me, and four or five people clad in military fatigues jumped out. I had no idea who they were, but I’d been warned earlier that unmarked vans had been snatching protesters who strayed from the larger group near the Hatfield Courthouse. So I did what most people would do. I ran.

One of them pursued me on foot, and two blocks up the street the van swooped around and cut me off again. Knowing well that there was no escape, I dropped to my knees and asked, “Why?” Nobody answered. Instead, they threw me into the van without telling me who they were or where they were taking me. I feared for my life.

Inside the minivan, the same four or five men were seated all around me. Someone pulled my beanie over my eyes so I couldn’t see anything. They grabbed my hands and held them over the top of my head while keeping pressure on my head and neck to keep my head down.

My mind was racing. Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been met with counteractions by far-right extremist groups in the past. Was I being abducted by them or police officers?

We drove for what felt like an eternity. Eventually the minivan stopped and the men pulled me out. I pushed my hat above my eyes and saw a large garage, filled with militarized vehicles and more people wearing similar camouflage uniforms. As strange as it sounds, I felt a sense of relief — I had been abducted by law enforcement, not one of Oregon’s right-wing militias.

The officers led me to an area where they took pictures of me on a cellphone from various angles. Then they confiscated my belongings, cuffed and shackled my wrists and ankles, and put me in a cell. Two people arrived later to read me my Miranda rights, asking me if I’d waive those rights to answer some questions. I declined their request and asked for a lawyer. After that they left me alone.

Sitting on the metal bench in my cell for hours on end, I occupied my mind by reading the etchings from previous detainees. I’d never been arrested before, and I couldn’t stop thinking of the worst-case scenarios. Will I be here for hours? Days? Longer? Would they accuse me of something I didn’t do? Did I do something wrong? Why am I even in this cell? I’d read about activists disappearing into vans in authoritarian countries abroad — was this what that felt like?

But as scared and angry as I was, at least I was still alive. I kept thinking of the many BIPOC people and immigrants who have experienced this kind of treatment by law enforcement officers and didn’t live to tell their story. How many ICE raids happened just like this, with someone being thrown into an unmarked van and separated from their families for months, years, or forever?

Eventually I was released without charges and with no record or documentation of my arrest. I had no way to know who had arrested me, how I had gotten on their radar, or what they had hoped to accomplish. Only later did I learn they were federal agents working with the Department of Homeland Security.

Since being abducted, I’ve only attended two protests. A lingering paranoia and fear have made me hesitant to exercise my rights to the fullest. I think that was part of the point of “the arrest.”

I’m not going to let this kind of unlawful intimidation chill me from participating in democracy and standing up for what I believe in. We shouldn’t have to live in fear of our own government abducting us off the streets for exercising our constitutional rights.

That’s why I’ve joined forces with the ACLU and fellow protesters, including military veterans, Black activists, and parents. The Trump administration thought it could silence us with its chemical weapons, rubber bullets, and police state tactics. But the spirit of liberty and racial justice here in Portland remains resilient and strong. We won’t be scared into silence. Nor will we rest until the Trump administration is held accountable for its lawless actions in Portland.


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