Portland protests calmer after federal agents stand down, but distrust of local police remains

But it’s not clear what direction the protests in the city, which show no sign of stopping, will take next. The core demands of those protesting against police violence and racism are unresolved — and they are increasingly divided about tactics.

The protest’s epicenter downtown near a federal courthouse was quiet Saturday for the third night in a row as state police opted for a hands-off approach, a drastic contrast from last week, when federal law enforcement officers deployed tear gas and pepper balls to dispel aggressive overnight crowds.

Yet another flash point emerged in southeast Portland, as city police rushed protesters with riot shields and pepper spray before arresting two. Police say that a large crowd of protesters had descended on a local sheriff’s office and thrown glasses and pointed lasers at officers.

But many protesters say it was an overreaction from a police force with a historically troubled relationship with minority communities that began long before federal officers arrived in the city.

“Some protesters make the argument that if we were all just peaceful, the police would stop messing with us,” Kevin, a 22-year-old carpenter who had arrived at the downtown protest at 9 p.m. Friday and stayed until the early hours of Sunday. “But some nights we are peaceful, and they still mess with us!”

Kevin, who asked that his full name not be published, said that he could not be sure that the violence would not return. He had been to the protests every night since early July, when he saw news reports about the use of force by federal law enforcement agencies, and has seen some of the worst of it.

Initially, he explained, he turned up to the protests looking for a fight, but his attitude had been changed by others he met at the protests.

“That’s kind of the game,” he said while sitting on the grass drinking water after walking around the city, . “They mess with us. We have to try and restrain ourselves.”

The dynamics on the ground are fluid as protests continue in many parts of the country, like Sacramento and Austin where police arrested about 20 people on Saturday. It was a week after a Black Lives Matter protester and military veteran Garrett Foster was fatally shot in the city by a motorist.

“I fully support the rights of people to express their First Amendment right peacefully,” she said in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace on Sunday. “It’s why I spent 23 years in the military.”

Duckworth said there were plenty of other ways for federal law enforcement agencies to work with local officials to make cities safer and allow peaceful protests “without federal troops coming in in unmarked vehicles and kidnapping peaceful protesters off the streets, throwing them into an unmarked van and driving off in the middle of the night.”

She was referring to video footage and reports documenting unidentified federal officers detaining protesters off the streets and placing them in unmarked vans in Portland, which drew wide condemnation from civil liberties advocates and local officials. “If President Trump truly wants to go after violence in our country, he should call [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell right now and ask for a sensible vote on uniform background checks,” Duckworth said.

Yet Portland protesters note that despite the focus on federal law enforcement, the relationship with city and state police officers is also tense.

On Saturday evening, multiple large protests were held across the city, with public officials and others demanding more change to fight racism in the city.

In the early evening, thousands of protesters had gathered at Laurelhurst Park in Portland’s Southeast. They later marched to the nearby Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.

The Portland Police Bureau later declared the gathering unlawful and moved to disperse the crowd with force.

In chaotic scenes, police officers wearing riot gear forcibly dispersed the crowd by pushing them back with shields and pepper spray and deflated the tires of a car that they said was blocking their path.

In a statement, the Portland Police Bureau said that officers outside the sheriff’s office had been targeted with lasers and glass bottles and that they had arrested two protesters in the melee.

Other events ended without violence.

The Portland chapter of the NAACP held an event at Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown on Saturday evening, with City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) urging those angry at the system to use political power to change it.

“The next thing we need you to do is vote like your life depends on it, because guess what, it does,” Hardesty told the crowd.

At the nearby Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, a federal building that has been a focal point of protests for more than 60 consecutive nights, thousands had gathered by late evening to listen to speeches. Some families had brought their children to the event, while a large group of drummers backed up frequent call-and-response chants.

“Whose streets? Our streets,” the protesters sang at 10:30 p.m., as the crowd blocked off the road and took over a nearby park with no sign of either city or state police.

Around midnight, a large group broke off from the parks outside the courthouse to march through the city, periodically stopping to listen to speeches. The marchers initially planned to march to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s apartment building, but hesitated when told he may not live there anymore.

“We’re going to the rich neighborhood,” said a man leading chants, who said he was from Seattle. “I don’t know where it is, but I know where you do.”

There was no visible interaction with law enforcement during the march, which saw the protesters chant and bang drums as they walked through much of the ritzy Pearl District north of Portland’s downtown. The streets were largely deserted, but some passing cars blared their horns in time with the chants and some residents appeared at the windows of apartment buildings to cheer the march.

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