For the last few weeks we have heard an excuse as to why federal agents had to be moved into Portland. But people on the ground said something very different—that things were calming down in Portland after weeks of protest and that the influx of federal agents and their response to protests inflamed the situation.
Governor Kate Brown has repeatedly referred to the federal officers as “an occupying force” and demanded that they withdraw and let state and local police handle the protests.
That finally happened late last week and the situation has begun to calm down.
The Oregonian reports: “Since federal officers have stopped their nightly tear gassing of the crowds, protest leaders attempted to shift the tenor downtown – away from the block around the courthouse and back to broader issues of injustice and police brutality faced by Black Americans.”
On Friday, the paper reported, “By 10:30 p.m., the crowd had grown beyond 2,000 people. The atmosphere remained calm even as more people gathered in front of the federal courthouse fence, the sight of nightly clashes with federal officers.
“The crowd grew after the Justice Center rally ended around 10:40 p.m. The mothers group who gathered there earlier tied balloons to the fence. By 11 p.m., there were few signs, if any, of destruction or actions that have drawn police out in the past, such as blinking lights, lasers, fireworks and objects hurled over the fence. Chants and drum beats filled the air. Police kept away.”
Rev. E.D. Mondainé, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, said Portlanders were coming out regularly for months to protest in support of Black lives.
“Our people have made some noise. Our people have let the world know that we are here. We’ve interrupted the flow of the White House. We made such a big noise, that they had to send federal troops,” he said. “And then we got co-opted, then we got tear gassed, then we got hit with rubber bullets.”
In the downtown area the past two nights saw “relative calm,” at least downtown. Oregon State Police rather than federal troops have provided the security. The state troopers have had little presence outside of the courthouse and “have not deployed tear gas or shot impact munitions at the crowd.”
That contrasts with recent weeks, where the federal officers would gas crowds on a nightly basis.
Here is Rooman Mendoza’s video of police from Monday night hitting protesters with tear gas…
“The energy has definitely changed,” said Captain Travis Gullberg of the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. “We’re very appreciative. We’re all trying to de-escalate.”
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty at an NAACP rally told the crowd that they were going to look at the police budget and develop another round of cuts.
She told the paper that she was “overjoyed” at the declared departure of federal officers from Portland.
“They were an occupying brutal terrorist group that was attacking our community every single night,” she said. “I am cautiously optimistic but I think we should remind Portlanders the Portland police were doing the exact same tactics long before federal goons showed up.”
Those echoed some of the words of the governor from earlier this week.
Governor Brown said, “These federal officers have acted as an occupying force, refused accountability, and brought violence and strife to our community. Beginning Thursday, all Customs and Border Protection and ICE officers will leave downtown Portland, and shortly thereafter will begin going home.”
“After discussions with the Vice President and administration officials this week, the federal government has agreed to my demand and will withdraw these officers from Portland. They will also clean up the Courthouse, removing the graffiti,” Governor Brown said.
She continued: “The local Oregon officers of the Oregon State Police will provide protection for free speech and the security of the exterior of the courthouse with the Federal Protective Service. A limited contingent of federal officials, who act as building security year-round, will remain and will stay focused on the interior of the U.S. Courthouse.”
“I have grown increasingly concerned at the nightly confrontation between local community members and federal officers. We need to recognize that the protests in Portland are not solely about the federal presence. They started before federal agents descended on our city and they will likely continue after they leave,” she added.
All was not calm on Saturday night. Police declared an unlawful assembly and tweeted, “People in this unlawful assembly have thrown glass bottles at Portland Police and directed lasers at them. Anyone who does not disperse may be subject to force or arrest.”
However, pretty quickly by 1:30 the area was cleared and the few hundred people near the justice center remained peaceful.
What we have seen from the federal government is a good example of how not to manage protests. Nightly attacks of tear gas and munitions did not solve the problem. If anything it escalated the problem—it spread the protests to other cities and it attracted more people to the protests, so instead of several hundred people, the crowds swelled to several thousand.
The original Black Lives Matter protesters complained because the influx of the federal troops shifted the focus of the protests from BLM to Trump.
Brendan Curran, minister at the United Church of Christ reportedly “told a group there who were protesting President Donald Trump to quiet down and focus on Black Lives Matter.
“It puts a bee in my bonnet when people don’t stay on message,” he said.
Many said that the destruction happening in the city started when the focus of the protests shifted from BLM to federal law enforcement.
“All of a sudden the purpose of the whole thing was gone. It took the sight off of what the purpose really was,” he said.
Senator Merkley spoke at Saturday NAACP rally and invoked the words of John Lewis.
“Good trouble, good trouble,” Merkley said. “We’re making good trouble now, and we need a lot more good trouble.”
Merkley spoke on ending mass incarceration in the United States, and also about a measure he has introduced, unofficially dubbed the “No Secret Police in America Act.”
Senator Merkley introduced SB 4049 which would “limit the use of Federal law enforcement officers for crowd control.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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