A Black woman who became a leading activist in the Black Lives Matter movement after she was assaulted by a white supremacist three years ago won’t be charged after her arrest early Monday fueled anger among protest leaders in Portland, Oregon, authorities said.
Demetria Hester, 46, was booked on suspicion of disorderly conduct and interfering with a police officer during the protest that began Sunday night. The Multnomah County district attorney’s office later said Hester would not be prosecuted but offered no further details.
Hester’s arrest drew a sharp rebuke from national Black Lives Matter activists, who are increasingly focusing on demonstrations in Oregon’s largest city.
After her release, Hester said at a news conference that she would keep protesting and joined others in announcing plans for a fundraiser to send Black mothers to Washington, D.C.
“I was born and bred to do this. This is a dream come true,” Hester said, tearing up as the crowd cheered. “This is a revolution and we’re getting reparations. We’re taking it to D.C., baby!”
Hester and 15 other people were arrested during Portland’s 73rd consecutive nights of protest. A group of about 200 demonstrators gathered at a park and then marched to the police union headquarters, where some people set fires outside the building and launched fireworks at officers.
Two officers were injured, including one who was burned on the neck when a firework exploded, police said.
Police declared a riot shortly after 10 p.m. and began arresting people, including Hester.
President Donald Trump once more seized on the protests and said on Twitter that Portland was “out of control.” He urged Democratic Gov. Kate Brown to bring in the Oregon National Guard.
Protests that attracted thousands of people in July — when Trump sent U.S. agents to protect the federal courthouse — have dwindled to nightly crowds of about 200, with a small number committing acts of vandalism and violence.
Peaceful demonstrations with speeches, chanting and singing also occur in the city every day and night at various locations and don’t require a police presence.
On Monday, civil rights groups in Portland and members of the international Black Lives Matter organization, who traveled to Portland, decried Hester’s arrest and said the city was at the center of the racial justice protest movement. The hashtag #freedemetria gained momentum on Twitter long after Hester had been released from jail.
More protests were expected Monday night
“The struggle here in Portland has become almost ground zero because what we’ve seen under this administration is the kind of flexing that we haven’t really seen in our generation, ever,” said Janaya Khan, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto. “People only protest when politicians and policies and police have failed to protect them. That is the only time that people protest, risking life and limb.”
Hester gained prominence in 2017 when she was assaulted by a white supremacist while riding a light-rail train. The man who attacked Hester, Jeremy Christian, stabbed two men to death the following night and critically injured a third man when they came to the defense of two Black woman — one of them wearing a Muslim head-covering — who were being harassed by Christian as they rode the train.
Hester gave emotional testimony this spring at Christian’s murder trial — testimony that took a dramatic turn when Christian threatened to kill her in an outburst that ended with him getting dragged from the courtroom. She also publicly criticized the police for failing to arrest Christian that night, which allowed him to commit the murders the following day.
Christian was convicted and given two life sentences without possibility of parole.
Hester has reappeared in public this summer as one of the main organizers of the “Wall of Moms,” a group of mostly white, self-described parents who have been protesting nightly. She and others are demanding that the City Council defund the Portland Police Bureau and reinvest the money in the Black community.
Hester became more visible in the group about two weeks ago when the original “Wall of Moms” group disbanded under accusations from some Black leaders that the white founders were seeking to monetize the Black Lives Matter movement and weren’t listening to Black voices.
Since then, she has been leading a smaller number of moms on marches each night, using a bullhorn to lead chants in a voice cracking with fatigue.
Hester spoke to The Associated Press on Saturday, before her arrest, and said that the “Wall of Moms” — now called “Moms United for Black Lives” — had regained its focus after the internal leadership struggle.
“Our life is in danger just because we want to express the fact that we are being abused, killed, raped and no one is doing nothing about it. And that’s why we’re protesting and we will never stop because we want to be treated equal as people,” she said.
She did not return a call or text message on Monday seeking further comment.
Hester’s arrest was captured on video and posted on Twitter. Hester, wearing a yellow backpack, is seen standing in the street when an officer in riot gear approaches her and says, “You’re under arrest.” Hester does not resist and is led away.
The Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called her “one of the bravest people we know.”
“PPB erred when they didn’t believe her, and now they’ve erred again in targeting her,” CAIR Oregon tweeted Monday, referencing the light-rail stabbings. “She has every reason to be upset. If they believed her, maybe two lives would still be with us today.”
The protests in Portland have happened nightly since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The unrest reached an apex when protesters targeted a federal courthouse last month that was defended by federal agents who lobbed tear gas at the attacking demonstrators in two straight weeks of nightly confrontations.
The federal agents withdrew on July 31.