Portlanders turned up at a local Fred Meyer store on Tuesday to recover perishable food that had been discarded in dumpsters after a massive winter storm knocked out power for thousands of residents in the area.
They wound up facing off with nearly a dozen Portland cops sent there to literally guard the trash, according to the Oregonian.
Local residents showed up to pick through the meat, cheese, and juice the store had thrown away, apparently in hopes of putting the items to use in the community. However, Fred Meyer, facing backlash on Twitter, said the food wasn’t fit to donate.
“Getting 12 PPB officers called on me for trying to liberate dumpster food to feed folx in warming shelters during a winter storm is very on-brand for me and the City of Portland,” Twitter user @teamraccoonpdx wrote Tuesday.
They added: “But now the food is being liberated from the dumpsters by the car loads & distributed to folx in our community experiencing food insecurity!”
The group had first gathered around 2:30 p.m. at the Hollywood West Fred Meyer, according to the Oregonian. In a statement Wednesday, the Portland Police Bureau said that someone at the grocery store had called at around 4 p.m. Tuesday to report that people were “arguing with employees and refusing to leave the property.” After a second call from the store from an employee who felt the situation was escalating and could turn into a physical confrontation, officers arrived at about 4:30 p.m.
“The position of the employees of the store was that the food was spoiled and required to be disposed of due to lack of refrigeration,” Portland Police Bureau said. “The food was unfit for consumption or donation. Officers also tried to explain this to the group of people. No subject in the crowd was willing to have an open dialogue with the officers and continued to shout insults at them and store employees.”
Between 5:05 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.—when the most cops were at the scene—there was a lieutenant, one sergeant, six officers, and three trainees present.
Officers left the store when they believed that there wasn’t any threat of harm, although employees later called back to report that the crowd had returned and that some were making “threatening statements.” Police decided to remain away “unless there was an imminent threat to life or serious threat of injury.”
Photos posted to Twitter by Juniper Simonis, whom the Oregonian described as an activist and researcher, show the Fred Meyer dumpsters were stuffed with food.
Simonis told the Oregonian that they were threatened with arrest while documenting the police presence at the store. They had a press badge, according to the newspaper.
“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 told the Oregonian.
After the cops left, people were able to take the discarded food, Simonis told the Oregonian. While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that perishable food be discarded “after 4 hours without power or a cold source like dry ice,” Simonis told the Oregonian that the tossed food was in good condition due to the cold weather.
A representative for Fred Meyer did not immediately respond to VICE News’ request for comment. However, Fred Meyer, in responding to people about the incident on Twitter, has said that the food wasn’t safe to give out and that it otherwise donates millions of pounds of food each year.
“Our store team became concerned that area residents would consume the food and risk foodborne illness, and they engaged local law enforcement out of an abundance of caution. We apologize for the confusion,” the store wrote on Twitter.
Portland, a hotbed of activism and mutual aid efforts, experienced a wave of anti-racism protests over the summer, some of which turned violent. And demonstrations continue; more than 100 anti-fascist protesters clashed with cops and vandalized the city’s Democratic Party of Oregon building last month, according to NPR.