Portland protests: Police declare riot as demonstrators break through court fence

Swell in support for protests from ‘walls’ of veterans, health workers, lawyers and others demanding withdrawal of federal troops

Alex Woodward
New York
Sunday 26 July 2020 19:26
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Protester with American flag tackled by federal police in Portland

Police in Portland, Oregon, have declared a riot after protesters breached a fence surrounding a court building where federal officers have been stationed during ongoing protests against police brutality and the presence of militarised law enforcement.

A police statement condemned the “violent conduct” of the protesters as creating a “grave risk of public alarm” when a group pulled down a section of fencing around 1.20am on Sunday.

“Dozens of people in the crowd maintained this level of violence and tumultuous conduct and were either intentionally or recklessly creating a grave risk of public alarm,” the statement said.

A crowd of about 200 people had assembled outside the Portland Police Association office before moving to the federal courthouse. Police said: “Throughout the night some people in this crowd spent their time shaking the fence around the building, throwing rocks, bottles, and assorted debris over the fence, shining lasers through the fence, firing explosive fireworks into the area blocked by the fence, and using power tools to try to cut through the fence.”

Demonstrations in the northwestern city continued through early Sunday morning after thousands of people gathered for another night of protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other black Americans.

In a video message on Saturday, Portland’s chief of police, Chuck Lovell, claimed that across the US ”people are committing violence, supposedly in support of Portland”.

“If you want to support Portland then stop the violence, work for peace,” he said. “We want to be with you in the community and working on the real relationships that will create change. We want to get back to the critical issues that have been hijacked by people committing crimes under the cover of the crowds.”

The deployment of federal officers to American cities has renewed protests, with demands for their removal.

As Donald Trump commanded the officers to protect federal properties and statues, skirting constitutional barriers to policing, Portland saw a surge of Department of Homeland Security forces meeting demonstrators with a furious response.

Portland officials have called for the president to move the federal forces out of the city.

While a federal court order has barred agents from targeting journalists and legal observers at demonstrations, another judge has rejected efforts by Oregon’s attorney general to restrict federal officers in the city.

“In the first place, although it involves allegations of harm done to protesters by law enforcement, no protester is a plaintiff here,” US district judge Michael Mosman said in his order on Friday. “In the second place, it is not seeking redress for any harm that has been done to protesters. Instead, it seeks an injunction against future conduct, which is also an extraordinary form of relief.”

Many protesters have equipped themselves with makeshift shields, umbrellas and face masks against a continuous barrage of teargas cannisters, pepper spray and other weapons fired by police.

“Walls” of organised groups of military veterans, teachers, health workers, lawyers in suits and ties, and mothers and fathers (equipped with leaf blowers to disperse clouds of teargas) have joined the demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and demanding federal agents withdraw from the city.

Small groups have caused visible damage to buildings, let off fireworks, tossed water bottles and other objects, and lit small fires. Demonstrators argue that civil disobedience and damage to property have provoked a police response that is disproportionate to the action, underscoring the brutality that they are protesting against.

At least 60 people in Portland have been arrested by federal agents, and prosecutors are charging at least 46 people.

Protests against police brutality continued across the US on Saturday.

At least one man was killed in Austin, Texas, where a man driving near a protest fired several rounds from the window before speeding away, according to police. A suspect has been arrested.

Authorities in Seattle also declared a riot in the city, where at least 45 people were arrested after police fired flash grenades and rushed into crowds.

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