A group of more than 30 moms created a barricade to protect hundreds of protesters from federal officers during demonstrations against police brutality and racism in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday.
Viral videos and photos on social media showed around three dozen mothers — dressed in white and wearing bike helmets — linking arms and chanting, “Feds stay clear! Moms are here!” and “Leave our kids alone” at a protest outside a federal courthouse.
The women stood for a few hours outside the courthouse before federal officers used tear gas and flash bangs to disperse the crowd.
Federal officers, deployed in Portland by President Trump since last week, have led to escalating tensions in the city after protesters said the officers were violating their civil rights by roaming the streets in unmarked vans and detaining people without probable cause.
The officers have also used tear gas, batons, and "less than lethal" munitions to disperse protesters who have been demonstrating for more than 50 nights in the city following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“We are about protecting peaceful citizens’ right to protest,” Bev Barnum, the organizer of “Wall of Moms,” told BuzzFeed News on Sunday.
Barnum, a 35-year-old content marketer and mother of two, said she created a Facebook event on Friday night after she was angered by a viral video that showed two armed and unidentified federal officers exiting an unmarked van, grabbing a person, and escorting them to a vehicle.
"As most of you have read and seen on the news, protestors are being hurt (without cause)," Barnum wrote on a Facebook event page, calling for moms to join Saturday's protest. "And as of late, protestors are being stripped of their rights by being placed in unmarked cars by unidentifiable law enforcement."
"We moms are often underestimated," Barnum wrote. "But we’re stronger than we’re given credit for. So what do you say, will you stand with me? Will you help me create a wall of moms?"
“We wanted to look like we were going to Target, like normal people,” Barnum told BuzzFeed News, adding that she hoped their nonthreatening appearance would let them provide protection. However, she said that the mothers were later tear-gassed by federal officers.
Last week, the Trump administration, led by acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, sent officers with DHS, Customs and Border Protection, the US Marshals Service, and the Federal Protective Service to the area, despite criticism from Oregon's public officials who said their presence would inflame tensions.
The state attorney general on Friday sued several of those federal agencies for “overstepping their powers and injuring or threatening peaceful protesters on the streets of Downtown Portland,” according to an Oregon Department of Justice release.
Among the protesters who were injured was 26-year-old Donavan LaBella, who was hit in the head by a "less lethal" round fired by a federal law enforcement officer, earlier this month. He was hospitalized with facial and skull fractures, his mother Desiree LaBella, told Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The Wall of Moms group coordinated with Don’t Shoot PDX, a social justice nonprofit, to take part in a vigil for Shai’India Harris, an 18-year-old Black woman who was killed earlier this month. The mothers then walked to the Mark O. Hatfield US Courthouse to join the crowd of protesters on Saturday night.
Some of the moms in the group, including Barnum, had never attended a demonstration but said they were moved to action by the videos of federal officers detaining citizens with seemingly little cause.
“When I heard that, this is like, where are we?” Julia Peattie, a 63-year-old retired teacher and part of the Wall of Moms group, told BuzzFeed News. Peattie, who posted videos and photos from the demonstration, said she left before officers used tear gas against the women on Saturday.
“There’s all the times in one’s life when you hear about things in authoritarian regimes and Nazi Germany, and you say, ‘I wouldn’t put up with that.’ This is that time,” Peattie said.
Barnum, who identifies as Mexican American, and Peattie both said that they didn’t want to take attention away from Black voices during their demonstrations.
Barnum said that she was hoping to use the “privilege” of being “white-appearing” to shield other protesters, whom officers were more likely to target.
“We know from the timeline that they showed restraint,” Barnum said, comparing the way federal authorities dispersed the mothers to the way they have been treating protesters on previous nights.
“We could tell by their body language. There were two federal officers in front of us that seemed to say, ‘We don’t want to shoot y'all,'" Barnum said.
"This is about Black moms every day losing their children, husbands, brothers, friends," Brenna Burnett, a 29-year-old business owner and a Wall of Moms participant, told BuzzFeed News. "This is about Black Lives Matter. This is not about white women coming in to save the day," she said.
After the mothers stood outside the federal courthouse for a few hours, federal officers dispersed the crowd with flash-bang devices, batons, and tear gas around 10:45 p.m.
Barnum and her group left shortly thereafter, with some being treated for exposure to the chemical irritants. She said that none of the members of her group were arrested.
“It just seemed like this sublimation of anger into a really emotional moment," Alexander Reid Ross, a 37-year-old doctoral fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right who observed Saturday’s events, told BuzzFeed News.
“Popular resistance comes from those unlikely places," Ross said. "Part of the human spirit is protest — the moms, and the neighbors, your friends doing it because you’re driven to.”
Barnum has since created a permanent Facebook group to organize more events. On Sunday, they will be joining demonstrations again, wearing yellow and handing out sunflowers.
“We’ll be out until no protester needs protecting,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified a woman as being Desiree LaBella.
Correction: The name of the Federal Protective Service was misstated in an earlier version of this post.