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Oregon police try to tamp down nightly Portland protests

Oregon police took over protecting a federal courthouse in Portland that’s been a target of violent protests as local authorities try to tamp down demonstrations that have wracked the city every night for more than two months.

Having state and local officers step up their presence was part of a deal between the Democratic governor and the Trump administration that aimed to draw down the number of U.S. agents on hand during the unrest.

Portland police cleared out a park Thursday morning across from the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse that demonstrators have used as a staging ground but reopened the park shortly before dark.

By 10:30pm, hundreds of people had gathered and were listening to speeches in front of the Justice Center, a building that is one block over from the courthouse and houses city and county law enforcement offices. There was no sign of state troopers or local police and the crowd remained peaceful. 

Later on Thursday evening, more than 1,000 people were still on the streets of downtown Portland, without any federal law enforcement in sight. 

Police said demonstrators put out fires and told others to stop climbing the fence in front of the federal courthouse. As a result, police said they didn’t have any interactions with demonstrators downtown.

Under the deal announced by Gov. Kate Brown, federal agents sent by President Donald Trump were to begin a phased withdrawal, with Oregon State Police taking over outside the building. But federal officials insist agents wouldn’t leave the city completely but be on standby in case they’re needed.

Brown lashed out against Trump: ‘I think we’ve had enough political grandstanding from DC,’ Brown tweeted. ‘The President’s plan to ‘dominate’ the streets of American cities has failed.

‘And today, federal troops are preparing to leave downtown Portland. We will protect free speech and the right to protest peacefully,’ she added. ‘The massive and non-violent protests led by Black Lives Matter activists have inspired the nation.

‘Let’s get to work and make this vision a reality.’

Trump said in a tweet that U.S. officers would stay in Portland until the violence was under control.

‘If she can’t do it, the Federal Government will do it for her. We will not be leaving until there is safety!’ Trump wrote about Brown, saying that she wasn’t doing enough to control the ‘anarchists & agitators.’ 

Trump doubled down on the need for federal intervention.

‘The governor and the mayor, we’ve been dealing with them, and we think they don’t know what they’re doing, because this should not have been going on for 60 days,’ he told reporters.

‘It’s not our job to go in and clean out the cities. That’s supposed to be done by local law enforcement,’ Trump added.

Police in Portland cleared parks and nearby roads around the city’s center in anticipation of a phased pullout by federal forces who have inflamed anti-racism protests in the city.

Dozens of officers encircled Chapman Square Park and Lownsdale Square Park on Thursday, ordering everyone in the vicinity to leave immediately. 

Some 50 people gathered nearby chanting ‘Murderers’ and ‘Quit your jobs.’ Others carried signs that read ‘This is not a riot, it’s a revolution,’ and ‘We won’t let the police stop us.’

‘We want change, we want something to happen,’ said Emily, 35, adding that the federal forces’ withdrawal will not alter the resolve of protesters.

‘They are just replacing the feds with police,’ she added. ‘I don’t expect tonight to be any different.’

 Police said protesters lit small fires along sidewalks and tried to light them inside the fence at the courthouse, but others in the crowd put them out according to KATU.

‘At times people lit small fires along sidewalks on surrounding blocks and attempted to light fires inside the fence at the federal courthouse,’ Portland police said in a press release after the protests were over. ‘Others in the crowd put the fires out. Some people climbed on or near the fence at the federal courthouse, but others admonished them and they got down. People could be heard in the crowd repeating that the protest was to remain peaceful.’   

Alicia Goss, who said she had been to 60 consecutive nights of protests, also said late on Thursday she was skeptical of the deal.

‘I don’t believe anything anymore,’ she said. ‘I won’t believe it until I see it.’

Jaleel Oneman waited for speeches to begin as the crowd grew earlier in the evening and said he didn’t expect much difference between the federal agents and state police who would be patrolling the protesters Thursday for the first time.

‘Stop hiding behind everything that you’re saying. Stop hiding behind your badges, stop hiding behind your lies, stop hiding behind the system that’s just been beating us up every day,’ he said, referencing law enforcement. ‘There ain’t no difference to me. No, not at all.’

In preparation for the handover, state troopers, the local sheriff and Portland police met and agreed not to use tear gas except in cases where there’s a danger of serious injury or death, Mayor Ted Wheeler said. Federal agents sent to the city in early July have used it nightly as protesters lob rocks, fireworks and other objects. 

The police would work with the city’s parks and recreation department, the sheriff’s office and outreach workers, Wheeler said in a tweet.

‘This is at the request of @ORStatePolice as part of the plan for federal officers to leave our community.’

Wheeler, who himself was gassed when he joined protesters outside the courthouse last week, added that tear gas ‘as a tactic really isn’t all that effective’ because protesters have donned gas masks and often return to the action after recovering for a few minutes. 

The Democrat also apologized to peaceful demonstrators exposed to tear gas used by Portland police before federal officials arrived.

Police Chief Chuck Lovell said he believes the new collaboration between local law enforcement agencies will be seen ‘as a victory in many ways.’

‘A lot of people came out to express their displeasure of folks from the federal government here and engaging in crowd control with members of our community,’ Lovell said. ‘So I´m hoping that on many levels that people are happy in this development.’

Lovell said he is ‘very happy and very hopeful’ with the collaboration between city and state police and Multnomah County Sheriff´s Department.

‘We have trained and worked with Oregon State Police and crowd control events extensively, throughout the years,’ Lovell said.

Portland has seen demonstrations since George Floyd died in May after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into the black man’s neck for nearly eight minutes.

Demonstrations have at times attracted up to 10,000 people for peaceful marches and rallies around the city. But some protesters have turned to violence that’s been increasingly directed at the courthouse and other federal property.

The Trump administration sent federal agents to guard the courthouse earlier this month and quell the unrest but the deployment had the opposite effect, reinvigorating protesters who found a new rallying point in opposing the federal presence. 

Many of the federal tactical teams wore combat-like gear, but their deployment inflamed the situation, especially following footage of protesters being snatched off the street by federal agents and put into unmarked cars.

The U.S. government had arrested 94 people as of Wednesday. During the past two months of protests, Lovell said the city police department has made more than 400 arrests and undertaken many different strategies in an attempt to deescalate the situation.

‘It´s been a long two months,’ he said.

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