(Photos: Nicholas Caleb)
Participants in an organized bike ride this weekend say they were accompanied by an undercover Portland Police Captain named Chris Uehara. Photos of who they suspect to be Cpt. Uehara attending the “Veloprovo” ride on Sunday surfaced on Facebook this morning. In the photos a man wearing a yellow Livestrong t-shirt, fitness pants and bike-specific shoes can be clearly seen standing next to a road bike, listening to speakers before the ride, and raising his fist in a group photo.
The same man appears in a photo of the Tar Sands protest ride last month which was organized by the same group of activists. The group behind these rides has ties to the PDX Bike Swarm that coalesced during Occupy Portland. As we’ve been reporting, the group does not hide the fact that their brand of advocacy is more radical and aggressive than anything that currently exists in Portland.
The man in these photos appears to be the same man wearing a PPB uniform and identified as Cpt. Chris Uehara in a Portland Public Schools video from September 2012.
Tracy Mattner was on the Veloprovo ride Sunday. She spoke to the man and is sure it’s Cpt. Uehara. “I spoke to Officer Uehara, who identified himself by his real first name, Chris.” she shared via email today. “He did not identify himself as an officer, but claimed to be a bicycle activist and enthusiast. When I asked how he heard about the event, he simply said he was at the “Tar Sands Ride.” Later, during group introductions, he stated that he had sold his car to buy the brand new bike he was riding.”
Another person on the ride, Nicholas Caleb, says having an undercover officer on the ride is a sign that we live in a “police state.” Caleb says the group has publicized everything they’ve done, held public meetings, videotaped their speeches, and so on. “You’d think when you do that, there’s no way you’d be the target of police surveillance.” “It’s scary,” he added, “But, we’re going to keep going forward with our positive ideas and creative energy.”
Caleb said the man he suspects of being Cpt. Uehara was suspicious because he had all brand new “stereotypical biker gear,” didn’t speak with anyone and was filming everything.
It’s worth remembering that the Portland Police has a history of secretly monitoring bicycle-based activism. According to research by documentary filmmaker and publisher Joe Biel, the Portland Police Bureau once labeled critical mass participants as “anarchists” and sent undercover officers to critical mass meetings and rides. During research for his book, Bi Pedal, By Pedal! and his documentary film, Aftermass: A post-Critical Mass Portland, Biel unearthed police documents that proved this to be the case. The PPB not only attended critical mass meetings and rides, but Biel asserts they also created false narratives by embellishing reports and even instigated hostile actions during the ride.
Reached today for comment about this recently alleged undercover action, Biel said, “I think the very nature of activities that push a change in culture threaten police training to the very core and demonstrate that the institution of policing exists to protect the status quo until political will is ready to push it over the brim.”
Last year Mayor Charlie Hales (interviewed prior to being elected) told Biel during an interview that he opposed the police presence at Critical Mass. “What I was concerned about was the fact that the police thought this was even a big deal at all,” said Hales, “I thought, hey, these are just some people riding bikes… why don’t we just leave these folks alone?”
If this turns out to be Cpt. Uehara, it remains to be seen whether he was at the ride on his own time or whether he was being paid by the PPB to gather information about this group of people riding bikes.
I’ve contacted the PPB Public Information Officer Lt. Michael Marshman for comment and I hope to hear back soon.