Image Description: [ASL Interpreter Andrew Tolman interpreting on the front lines of a protest in various places through downtown PDX. They are wearing blue jeans and a black leather jacket. They are wearing goggles and a gas mask in front of a crowd, lines of Riot Police, and clouds of tear gas lit by city lights]
Photo Credit: All are screenshots from live streams from @warriorwolf73

Andrew Tolman (they/them pronouns, also known as “Anne”), the owner and lead interpreter for Fingers Crossed Interpreting, is known as the only volunteer interpreter for front line access to protests and other civil rights movement events in the PDX [Portland, OR] area. Contrary to what hearing folks may believe, interpreters are not paid for their work at protests. For the past two years, Tolman has been working tirelessly to provide access and they have not asked for anything from the community except to let them know when and where they are needed for interpreting. 

At around 2:30 in the morning on August 23, 2020, a post on Tolman’s Facebook wall shared a shocking message:

“#PDXPROTEST Community! This is Lilith Sinclair posting from Anne’s page! They’ve been arrested & comrades are downtown at the injustice center organizing jail support right now! Spread the news! #FREEANNE #abolishprisons.” (Tolman’s Facebook account)

This post was made a few hours after night 85 of nonstop protests in the PDX area. 

The video below shows four Portland Police Bureau [PPB] officers rushing towards Tolman and three other protestors, who were standing around Tolman for physical safety so Tolman could continue interpreting. This video aired after Tolman had been interpreting on Facebook LIVE for most of the evening. When Tolman noticed that police were approaching the group, Tolman hit “record” for viewers to see what was going on: “My hand hit the button when I was grabbed and my phone locked up” (Tolman). 

Tolman’s phone froze and the recording stopped, which was when the police officer(s) threw Tolman to the ground not once, but twice. Tolman added, “Once [the officer got] off of my friend [who was thrown] into a bush, then [he] pulled me and threw me to the concrete, slamming my gas mask head into the ground. [The officer] shoved [their] knee into my back and pulled my arm up.” (Tolman) Tolman was placed under arrest, put in jail for over ten hours before being released, and then officially charged for “interfering with a peace officer.”

Video of Tolman’s Arrest

Posted by Andrew Tolman on Sunday, August 23, 2020

Community Reacts to Tolman’s Arrest
Henry Felton shared the update of Andrew being arrested and his disbelief, ”I’ve watched Andrew Tolman’s lives since the beginning. Fingers Crossed makes the protest and makes videos online accessible to the Deaf community. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. Andrew is always on the sidelines …”

Destiny Houston also commented, “I just realized Ann is Andrew Tolman! I am so angry right now I can not see straight. How Dare They Arrest them! Unbelievable. We’ve got to show up for them! They have shown up for us from Day 1! The revolution will be accessible! Andrew Tolman. Please go to his page to read comments on how to support. I’ll update here as I figure out what to do. [fingers crossed emoji]”

PDX Access on Front Lines – The Harsh Truth
Tolman’s recollection of what had happened on August 22 was shared on their personal Facebook wall and they have given Deaf Vee Journal permission to share their message to the PDX and greater Deaf communities at large about the lack of access on the front lines. 

During the morning protest, Tolman wrote that they were “bear maced, hit with paintball shards, tear gassed by a right-wing explosive, and bull rushed by Federal officers.” Right-wing extremists and Q-Anon supporters were attacking PDX protestors with bear mace, tear gas, and even drawing guns on the protestors. The police did nothing.

Tolman described the following for the evening protest: “…tear gassed, thrown to the ground twice, head slammed into the concrete, knee shoved into my back while my arm is almost pulled out of the socket, arrested, misgendered, and held for 10 hours by Portland Police.” The protestors Tolman was with were nonviolent and nonthreatening. Tolman added, “I was interpreting on livestream in the street and on the sidewalk throughout the night. We were unarmed. My three friends were there as security for me to live stream safely.”

Also on Facebook, Tolman shared their statement as a message for appointed officials to stop making excuses about the lack of access for the Deaf community on the front lines, as provided below:

Amanda Fritz (who has been City Council Commissioner since 2008) wrote an email about how the city cannot find ASL Interpreters to go on the front lines for access because of dangerous protestors. Yet, yesterday, I was attacked by everyone EXCEPT protestors and then arrested for doing my work. Your officers slammed me to the ground TWICE as I stood on the sidewalk. My left arm, shoulder, and hand are all hurt which puts my job and livelihood at risk.

So,Commissioner Amanda Fritz – It’s your move. Now you know an ASL Interpreter who is willing to be hurt and brutalized for the sake of access. No more excuses. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty wants to take over PPB, so I wonder what her plan would be for front lines access for Deaf and Hard of Hearing people non-violently exercising their 1st Amendment rights? If Sarah Iannarone for Portland Mayor wants to be Mayor so badly, then what is your EXPLICIT and DISABILITY COMMUNITY LED action plan for Disability Justice within Portland City Hall? How about Ted Wheeler and his team – what are you doing to make sure that PPB is following the ADA and other conduct laws? What are you doing to ensure things like this don’t happen? Mike Schmidt – now that you are District Attorney, what will you do to make sure that the justice system becomes more equitable and accessible? It’s not just the cases you accept but the culture you create that can really change the world.

Make PPB accessible or I will force you. I will use every single piece of momentum from this movement and this arrest to hold you and the rest of City Council fully responsible for your ableism and lack of regard of human life. ALL OF YOU NEED TO DO BETTER OR KICK ROCKS!!!!!!

HOLD OUR CITY ACCOUNTABLE. BLACK LIVES MATTER.

SEE YOU IN THE STREETS.

Tolman’s Open Letter
Weeks earlier on August 7, 2020, Tolman also sent an open letter to the Portland City Council to share their concerns about the lack of access on the front lines. If you are concerned about access on the front lines, take the time to share your experience and perspective on access with the Portland City Council. The letter below is Tolman’s letter and theirs alone. Tolman encourages the Deaf community to take a step forward and to speak up: “I encourage people to use my words as inspiration to find their own. I do not speak for the Deaf community and the Deaf perspective and story here is really what it’s all about.”

To The City Council (PDX),

I was CC’d and brought into an email chain that included Mayor Wheeler and our City Commissioners regarding ADA violations by Portland Police. The response was dismissive at best. I responded, and want to share here for transparency. For context, Commissioner Fritz said, quote, “ I don’t know of any ASL interpreters within the PPB, nor any who would be willing to be hired to provide the service in a volatile situation where demonstrators were attacking both police and SE residents.” Below, you can find my response to the thread. If anyone in the Black community or the Deaf community feel I have overstepped, please publically call me in and I am more than willing to learn how to better use my words and platform. I will be frank, because peoples’ lives are on the line and White respectability politics are garbage and oppressive.

Commissioner Fritz is lying. She does know interpreters who are willing but the city refuses to hire them. I know because I personally have offered myself and have worked with Mayor Wheeler and all Commissioners. I know because I personally have been told I can no longer be hired to interpret for the city because of conflict with perceptions. They know damn well I’m on the front lines all the time interpreting directions their officers. They know damn well there’s multiple Deaf people they could ask. This is nothing short of laziness and oppression. You all clearly don’t give a fuck or these fixes would’ve already been done. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the ADA before. Maybe read it once or twice?

It’s also disgusting the Commissioner would speak of violence or actions that she has no knowledge of. Especially to justify her ableism and blatant lack of concern with Disability Justice. I haven’t seen her on the front lines. Ted came for a cute photo op but continues to demonize youth and Portland residents to protect his own power and votes. Come stand with us if you’re going to speak about us. Otherwise, frankly, y’all can shut your mouths.

I have been teargassed and beaten MULTIPLE TIMES while interpreting for Deaf people and while putting my body between officers and Blind people. I interpreted at Occupy ICE PDX when officers committed psychological and physical warfare against us. I was on the streets interpreting stories when Patrick Kimmons was murdered while we listed to his blood get power sprayed off the streets. I have been brutalized. I’ve been attacked by Commissioners and their teams online. Ted loves to tell people I’m his favorite and I have “such strong arms”. Chloe loves to talk about DA rights but continues to be heavily complicit outside of what immediately affects her. I’ve had interactions with EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU. So to say you don’t know how to find resources to make it happen is BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT. BULLSHIT.

I loudly speak about it and will continue to do so. How about when your officer said to my face “If you care so much then you should interpret it” just minutes after tear gassing and brutalizing humans. Is that the attitude we should be trusting to take care of and consider people? How about your officers joking about giving us tear gas enemas? Maybe Ted could come get one of those next to try and earn a few more rich White votes? How about when Jo Ann told me she can’t get interpreters for events that she doesn’t throw, and then was involved in and threw multiple events, budget discussions, and other public forums with NO accessibility even after receiving official complaints? How about Ted Wheeler having a campaign manager who’s mother is an ASL Interpreter? But y’all “can’t find anyone”? How about the hours and hours Deaf individuals like Philip Wolfe have spent testifying and emailing and meeting with you all? You CLEARLY don’t give a FUCK about Philip or the Deaf community. Because you have looked him in the face and promised to do better then turned around and shit right on him. You provide accessibility when it looks good for you but not to engage communities on what they need. You will appease a complaint once to save face, but have NEVER ONCE successfully and full-heartedly moved for true systemic change and Disability engagement. It’s obvious in your history. And none of you can hide from it because I’m literally the one that has seen it and dealt with it. You must have assumed an ASL Interpreter is just a tool for you to use. On the contrary, we are fierce warriors for Disability justice and we don’t fuck around. I went from you FAVORITE interpreter, to an agitator in just a matter of months. Ironically, during a global pandemic and international racial justice uprising. Hmm… I wonder if that’s a coincidence? Could it be, perhaps, the fact that I was no longer the cute, close-lipped gay boy for you to tote around? I’ll answer for you – yes. It is.

Any Commissioner or government official who wants to play “that’s not my job” with peoples’ lives should sit the fuck down and leave government (looking at you too, Jo Ann, since you love to forget Black people can be disabled too and hate that it takes a White person to remind you).

This isn’t a game.

Ableism is White Supremacy. And y’all are some GODDAMN WHITE SUPREMACISTS.

With no due respect,

Andrew Tolman

Fingers Crossed Interpreting

Contact Information for the City of Portland

Mike Schmidt, District Attorney: [email protected]

Ted Wheeler, Mayor of Portland: [email protected]

JoAnn Hardesty, City Council Commissioner: [email protected]

Amanda Fritz, City Council Commissioner: [email protected]

Chloe Eudaly, City Council Commissioner: [email protected]

Editor’s Note: To learn more information on PDX protests, follow Tolman’s personal page on Facebook for videos of their activities. You also can find them on Instagram at @FingersCrossedInterpreting for more resources and information on events Fingers Crossed Interpreting staff provides access to.