Federal officers clash with protesters in Portland

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17 Jul 2020, 12:03 pm

Feds gas downtown groups; ‘unlawful assembly’ at PPB precinct

Federal officers deployed tear gas and riot control munitions in an attempt to disperse protesters near the Justice Center and federal courthouse building as Portland police rushed demonstrators near the bureau’s Southeast Precinct after declaring an “unlawful assembly” during the 49th night of unrest in the city.

Federal officers first fired rounds and deployed tear gas after protesters stood their ground outside the federal courthouse late Thursday night. A few hundred demonstrators had gathered in the area but were told to disperse by police after they reportedly heard chanting about burning down the building.

Some protesters remained in the area and were arrested, but it was unclear how many arrests were made.

Thursday’s events began in the evening with two separate marches: one organized by the PNW Youth Liberation Front and a “March for Black Education” organized by Black Youth Movement. The latter started at King Elementary School and ended at Woodlawn, while the former started at Laurelhurst Park and ended at the Portland Police Bureau’s Southeast Precinct on East Burnside, where protesters stood and chanted slogans directed at officers in riot gear for hours until the gathering was declared an unlawful assembly and officers ordered people to disperse.

Across the Willamette River, several hundred protesters gathered outside of the Justice Center and the Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. The federal building has been a main focus of contention in recent days. Federal officers have used tear gas multiple times against protesters since last week.

As the night progressed, federal officers in camouflage uniforms emerged and eventually engaged with protesters. Around 11:30 p.m., federal officers started firing riot control munitions and deploying tear gas in an effort to disperse people in the area.

Police say several targeted arrests were made near the Southeast Precinct around 11:40 p.m., shortly before an unlawful assembly was declared.

Police said the unlawful assembly was declared due to “criminal activity” occurring in the crowd, including throwing rocks, bottles, and sticks, as well as pointing green lasers at officers. By midnight, most of the crowd had not budged.

Shortly before midnight, a car reportedly drove up behind Portland police officers on the street — narrowly missing them. That car was later stopped and multiple arrests were made. PPB says officers disengaged shortly after.

As the protest continued into the early hours of Friday morning, a few hundred people remained in the area. Many dragged sections of fencing erected Thursday morning by officials around Chapman and Lownsdale squares into the streets to use as barricades.

Police again announced at 12:45 a.m. that an unlawful assembly had been declared, as most of the group who had returned to Southeast Precinct continued to stand in the middle of the street, blocking traffic. Officers then dispersed the crowd and made several arrests once again.

Groups dissipated for the most part within the next few hours. No tear gas was used by Portland police.

An escalation in protest activity in the city is due, in part, to the arrival of Chad Wolf, the acting secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Wolf drove into downtown Portland Thursday afternoon, hours after issuing a statement condemning ongoing violence displayed at protests in the city.

Wolf accused local leaders of failing to protect the city, which he said has been “under siege for 47 straight days by a violent mob.” Lawless anarchists, Wolf said, are destroying and desecrating property.

Trump Accused of Deploying 'Secret Police' in Portland as Political Stunt

Political leaders in Oregon have accused President Donald Trump of interfering in Portland's handling of widespread protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd's death as a political stunt to rally his base ahead of the November election.

Despite repeated calls from Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for federal authorities to remove their officers from the city's streets, the Trump administration has remained adamant on maintaining a law enforcement presence in Portland.

In an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf acknowledged that local and state officials wanted federal authorities to "pack up and go home."

However, he said: "That's just not gonna happen on my watch." Instead, he said federal law enforcement, including officers and agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection agencies, would continue to patrol the streets of Portland.

The recent incident of a protester getting shot in the head with an impact munition, as well as videos of unidentifiable federal agents in tactical gear arresting protesters on the streets and forcing them into unmarked vehicles have raised alarm, however, about federal law enforcement's tactics.

The U.S. Marshals Service is investigating the incident that saw Donavan LaBella, 26, shot in the head and left seriously injured, but local and state officials, as well as Congress members have blamed federal authorities and Trump for the incident.

A peaceful protester in Portland was shot in the head by one of Donald Trump's secret police," U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) wrote in a tweet.

"Now Trump and Chad Wolf are weaponizing the DHS as their own occupying army to provoke violence on the streets of my hometown because they think it plays well with right-wing media," Wyden said

Fellow Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley also weighed in, writing in a tweet: "Federal forces shot an unarmed protester in the face. These shadowy forces have been escalating, not preventing, violence."

Brown also took aim at Trump, accusing him of engaging in "political theater" by sending federal law enforcement into Portland.

"This political theater from President Trump has nothing to do with public safety," Brown said. "The president is failing to lead this nation. Now he is deploying federal officers to patrol the streets of Portland in a blatant abuse of power by the federal government."

The goal, Brown said, appears to be to look "for a confrontation in Oregon in the hopes of winning political points in Ohio or Iowa."

Indeed, Trump's hardline response to protests could garner support among his base, with the president receiving favorable coverage on conservative media.

Still, however, the president continues to trail Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, by 8.6 percent in an average of polls maintained by by Real Clear Politics.

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