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Portland, Oregon, police declare Saturday gathering a riot after another night of protest, unrest

Portland, Oregon, police declare Saturday gathering a riot
after another night of protest, unrest 1
CLOSEPortland, Oregon, police declare Saturday gathering a riot
after another night of protest, unrest 2

Federal agents in green camouflage uniforms have been taking into custody people in the streets of Portland, not close to federal property that they were sent to protect. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called it “an attack on our democracy.” (July 17) AP Domestic

Portland police declared a gathering Saturday night a riot after hundreds of demonstrators who have been protesting in the city since the death of George Floyd broke into a building and set it ablaze and started dumpster fires.

The protesters broke into the Portland Police Association at around 10:45 p.m. Saturday, police said, and “ignited a fire inside.” That prompted police to declare the event a riot “due to the violent conduct of the large group creating a grave risk of public alarm.” The fire inside the Portland Police Association building was put out a short time later.

“As the crowd was dispersed, several people in the crowd were arrested and officers were able to extinguish the fire,” Portland Police said Sunday in a statement. “Portland Police did not use any CS gas.”

Photos and videos shared on social media by reporters and bystanders, however, show police using tear gas to help clear the area.

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Earlier Saturday night, a different group of demonstrators gathered by the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct and “taunted officers … tampered with gates, broke patrol vehicle windows, and vandalized patrol vehicles,” police said.

After protesters regrouped later at an intersection in North Portland, police said they tried to move the crowd south, when some “threw rocks, gopher gassers, and launched paint filled balloons at officers.” Police said some officers were injured but did not provide specific details.

In a message posted to his Twitter account Sunday morning, President Donald Trump blamed local officials for the unrest.

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” Trump tweeted. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”

Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blasted the protesters as “lawless anarchists” in a visit to the city on Thursday.

The Trump administration has enlisted the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and an elite U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border to protect federal property.

The federal presence has been a point of tension for Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local officials, who have bristled at the deployment of federal troops. Wheeler decried a small group of violent protesters for drowning out the message of peaceful protesters and said that the federal presence has aggravated an already-delicate climate in the city.

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Wheeler said Friday.

On Friday, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court. The complaint claims that unidentified federal agents have taken people into custody “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.”

Rosenblum, who equated the tactics to “being kidnapped,” is seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

Tensions also escalated after an officer with the Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.

On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, issued a joint statement, criticizing the Trump administration’s decision to deploy federal troops on protesters.

“We live in a democracy, not a banana republic,” the statement said. “We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians, Washingtonians – or any other Americans – as props in President Trump’s political games. The House is committed to moving swiftly to curb these egregious abuses of power immediately.”

Saturday night’s protest was just the latest incident in a weekend that had already been characterized by unrest. The protests are part of a larger nationwide movement for racial justice after Floyd’s death May 25 while he was in police custody.  

On Friday night, hundreds of people gathered for a vigil outside the Justice Center, which is downtown and between two federal buildings. 

Dozens of protesters across the street entered two recently closed city parks by taking down a chain-link fence that had been restricting access.

The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that federal agents left a nearby office building and used impact munitions, stun grenades and tear gas to clear the area. The outlet said its journalists did not observe any incident that might have prompted the use of the weapons.

Contributing: Associated Press

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