Jayati Ramakrishnan and Beth Nakamura
Roughly a dozen Portland police officers faced off with a small group at a Northeast Portland Fred Meyer on Tuesday after people tried to take food that had been thrown away.
Workers at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer threw away thousands of perishable items because the store, like many others, had lost power in an outage brought on by the region’s winter storm.
Images on social media showed mountains of packaged meat, cheese and juice, as well as whole turkeys and racks of ribs that had been tossed into two large dumpsters near the store.
Yesterday, a dozen #Portland police officers guarded food that had been thrown away by workers at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer in #PDX.— Indesist (@indesist) February 17, 2021
Workers threw away thousands of perishable items because the store lost power in the winter storm. pic.twitter.com/JoPVMU6M5W
A few people gathered about 2:30 p.m. at the store, 3030 N.E. Weidler St., in hopes of salvaging the food.
But within a few hours, people seeking food from the dumpsters began to report police officers showing up to guard the dumpsters and prevent people from taking the items.
Morgan Mckniff, a resident of the neighborhood, said employees were guarding the dumpsters when they showed up to get some of the discarded food. Mckniff began to film the employees and reported staff members threatened to call the police on them for doing so.
The store manager called police shortly thereafter, Mckniff said, and Mckniff began livestreaming the interaction on Instagram.
“After that, other people started showing up and asking them, ‘Why are you guys guarding a dumpster?’” Mckniff said.
Mckniff said about 15 people eventually gathered in an attempt to collect food.
At that point, Mcniff said, a dozen officers arrived at the scene. One officer wasn’t wearing a mask and refused to put one on until a supervisor arrived and brought him one, according to Mckniff.
Neither Portland police nor the store’s spokesperson responded to requests for comment. An employee from the store said they couldn’t comment.
Juniper Simonis, an environmental biologist and data scientist who arrived to document the police presence, said officers showed up and threatened those on hand with arrest — at which point the crowd moved across the street.
Simonis said they took out their press badge and went closer to take photos of the officers, who were standing in front of the bins full of food.
“I’m just interacting with officers and trying to get their information, and then they say, ‘We’re going to arrest you if you don’t leave,’ and threatened me with trespassing,” Simonis said.
Simonis was bewildered by the threat of arrest.
“I was documenting the police, not what was in the dumpster,” they said. “I wasn’t going over there. And the police got the store manager to threaten me with trespassing.”
Simonis said police eventually left and those waiting to get food made their way over to the dumpsters. As of 6:30 p.m., about two dozen people were at the dumpsters, taking a few items each.
Simonis noted that all the food was still in good condition, given the cold weather. One person picked up a carton of juice with an expiration date in March.
Both Mckniff and Simonis said the immediate action to prevent people from taking the discarded food speaks to the value the city places on providing aid to those in need.
The run-in also came as the region reeled from a winter storm that brought on widespread power outages that left many people unable to salvage perishable items in their refrigerators.
“The people who were there weren’t there for selfish reasons — they were there to get food to distribute to hungry people around the city,” Simonis said. “There are mutual aid groups that have been helping feed people at warming centers, because the city doesn’t have enough resources to feed them.”
Multnomah County kept emergency severe weather shelters open Monday, for example, taking to social media to ask for volunteers to keep the doors open an additional night. More than 300,000 people and businesses lost power over the weekend, with nearly all of the area’s hotels filling up as people tried to escape the cold.
Mckniff said many of the people police threatened with arrest and turned away are regular customers of the store.
“I live in this neighborhood. This neighborhood doesn’t have power,” Mckniff said. “And Fred Meyer is telling people in this immediate community who shop here that they can’t have these things they’re throwing away. Cheese, pickles, yogurt — things that are intentionally cultured and cured.”
Simonis said it’s hard to rationalize of the actions by police and the store.
“None of this makes sense to me except through the lens of severely ingrained policing and a culture of disrespect for human dignity,” they said.
They noted parallels between the Fred Meyer incident and Portland protests.
“Here it’s not broken windows, it’s tossed away but otherwise completely fine food,” Simonis said. “It’s not a bad situation or vandalism, it’s literally the exact opposite — feeding hungry people. Yet they still use the same apparatus to prevent anything from being done.”
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