Portland police detain two suspects after reported shooting near federal courthouse protest site
PORTLAND, Oregon — Violence continued Sunday night near the contested federal courthouse, with local police temporarily detaining two people after a gunshot, and federal agents tackling and detaining at least six protesters before seizing weapons and shields from their encampment.
“Get off me, get off me!” a woman screamed as at least three federal agents swarmed over her, shoving her to the street and holding her down. Several of her fellow protesters tried to push the agents off, but were warned back by a camouflaged agent with a rifle.
A handful of other protesters were tackled, restrained and either frog-marched into the courthouse or loaded into marked police vehicles. Federal agents then searched the encampment that’s sprung up in a city park across the street, looking through tents and containers before removing shields, gas masks and other protest supplies, including several sticks, chemical sprayers and an empty gas can.
It was unclear what precipitated the arrests around 1:20 a.m., but they came during an evening of tension heightened by a reported shooting around 7:30 p.m. in the protest encampment. Police briefly detained two people in connection with that incident, and later released pictures of loaded rifle magazines and two Molotov cocktails they found nearby. It remained unclear early Monday if the shooting was connected to the protest, and police said the magazines and firebomb “appear to be unrelated” to the shooting.
All last week the area was the scene of violent confrontations between activists and federal officers. Videos posted to Twitter showed angry crowds confronting police investigating the shooting. Portland police have largely ceded the area to protesters for the past week, but arrived quickly following the reported shooting.
“As police were securing the scene a person arrived at a hospital by private vehicle with an apparent gunshot wound, non-life threatening. That person seems to have been associated with the incident,” police officials said in a statement.
Thousands of protesters have flocked to the streets surrounding the federal courthouse each night for nearly two months since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, and while federal agents have been subjected to barrages of fireworks, bottles and flaming garbage, violence between protesters has been limited.
Activists aligned with the Black Lives Matter social justice movement have said they are worried the focus on federal law enforcement and the courthouse risks diluting their efforts to overhaul the Portland police department. Protests have taken place every day since Floyd’s death, but exploded in size last week after President Donald Trump ordered a heightened federal presence to protect federal buildings and restore order.
All that time, the protest area has largely been void of local law enforcement officials. Police no longer routinely patrol the streets in the area, mostly turning a blind eye to people spray painting graffiti on surrounding buildings, setting small fires, destroying pedestrian walk signals, illegally camping in a park and urinating in doorways. In their place, self-appointed guardians manage traffic, provide meals and aid protesters hit with tear gas. And at night they clash with federal agents.
Early on Sunday night, activist and artist Donovan Smith, 28, climbed atop a pickup parked in the middle of the protest and told attendees the Black community must focus on more than just police reform.
“We are doing worse today in Oregon than we were 50 years ago,” he said, calling for the crowd to vote for Black City Council members willing to restructure the police department and examine issues of economic inequality.
Sunday’s crowd was substantially smaller than the estimated 4,000 people who attended Saturday night and saw far less interaction between protesters and federal agents until about midnight, when the two sides exchanged a short volley of fireworks and glass bottles, answered by tear gas.
Saturday night, protesters screamed at officers to quit their jobs and a small number of protesters attached ropes to a fence encircling the courthouse building, pulling down a section. This prompted agents to swarm out into the street, firing tear gas, to push the crowd back.
Portland police declared the protest a riot just after 1 a.m. on Sunday morning and sent in police cars and officers to scatter participants, making six arrests. Federal agents made eight arrests for either assaulting an officer or failing to comply with officers’ orders.
The Department of Homeland Security said 14 agents were hurt in confrontations with protesters Saturday night, variously referring to participants as “anarchists,” “violent actors” and “rioters.” Agents said they were hit with bottles and fireworks and blinded with lasers and high-intensity flashlights.
Trump, who sent in the federal officers more than a week ago, said journalists were not showing what’s “really” going on. “They want the American public to believe that these are just some wonderful protesters, not radical left ANARCHISTS!” he tweeted Sunday. He then followed up by accusing hundreds of mothers protesting in Portland under the name “Wall of Moms” of being part of a scam.
Trump accused protesters — which have also included fathers, college students, doctors and nurses, scientists and military veterans — of being anarchists “who hate our country.”
To appease protesters, city leaders have taken steps to reform the police department, cutting $15 million from what would have been a $245 million budget and disbanding three specialty units that patrolled schools and public transit and worked to reduce gun violence. City leaders also downsized the department’s SWAT team, and allocated $5 million to pay for unarmed first responders to assist people experiencing homelessness.
But Tai Carpenter of the activist group Don’t Shoot PDX said victory will come not only when the federal presence decreases in the city, but if major change happens within local government. To her, that’s the disbanding of the Portland Police Bureau and the resignation of Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“Our resistance community is very strong. First, we had the Wall of Moms and then it’s the Wall of Dads, the Wall of Veterans. There’s a constant evolution here, and people are always finding more and more reasons to say, ‘I’m going out there, too,’” she said. “Hopefully, things change by November. I’m feeling good about it, especially with so many youth leading. They’re extremely inspiring, and they’re so organized.”
Ameya Okamoto, 20, the lead organizer with Fridays4Freedom, said she is leery to use the word “victory” when discussing outcomes of any protest because “we know we’re long-term.” She’s hopeful there will be small milestones worth celebrating, like “the unseating of a white, complicit mayor” but recognizes overall that “this fight is so much bigger than us.”
The group was founded just before Juneteenth, and has posted a list of demands on its Instagram page, including disarming Portland State University; the creation and implementation of ethnic studies programs throughout Portland Public Schools; and the complete abolition of the Portland Police Bureau
Wheeler, who was teargassed by federal officers late Wednesday night after spending hours at the demonstration trying to calm protesters, will face off in November against Sarah Iannarone, an urban policy consultant who also took on Wheeler in the 2016 mayoral race, finishing third in the primary. She’s been a regular at protests and has participated in the protest’s “Wall of Moms.”
“If you’re going to decry the violence of Trump’s feds, and say they’re not welcome here, you need to decry the violence in your own law enforcement,” she told The Oregonian last week about Wheeler’s leadership. “The mayor isn’t willing to do that. He won’t have the public trust until he does.”