With federal officers taking a lower profile in Portland, Oregon, protesters are turning their ire on local police, using the same tactics of throwing bottles and firing lasers into officers’ eyes, as Black Lives Matter demonstrations enter their 10th week.
New violence over the weekend seems to undercut city and state leaders’ claims that it was the presence of the feds that had sparked the violence.
Portland police also reported Sunday morning that they’re seeing demonstrators cloaking themselves as journalists to engage in the violence — a tactic the federal officers also faced, and one that complicates questions about press freedom and the ability to control the crowds.
“People with ‘press’ written on their outer garments repeatedly threw objects at officers,” the city police department said in a wrap-up of Saturday night’s activities, which saw generally peaceful demonstrations near the federal courthouse in downtown Portland, but a more violent scene to the east near a city office building.
After those protesters started throwing bottles and aiming lasers at officers, police declared it an unlawful gathering and tried to disperse the crowd.
Police said they made two arrests of demonstrators who were fighting them, and at one point they had to slash the tires of a car that was being used to try to obstruct officers from clearing the scene.
Activists on Twitter claimed the car belonged to a reporter.
A federal judge last week said he was so concerned about demonstrators cloaking themselves as press that he is pondering asking the American Civil Liberties Union to license reporters on the scene.
Judge Michael Simon had previously issued a temporary restraining order directing police not to interfere with reporters doing their jobs in covering the events, but he said he’s worried about video he’s seen of people marked as press leading assaults on the federal courthouse.
“Given that we’ve seen some people at least commit some unlawful acts who were wearing a press helmet, am I not putting the law enforcement officers at unreasonable danger or risk?” he said during a telephone hearing on Friday.
At the same time, he also said he’s worried some officers are still targeting press despite his orders.
For them, he said he’s pondering having them wear sports team-style jersey numbers, so they can be identified and punished if they are violating his orders.
“I do think it might be appropriate to require any federal law enforcement officer who steps out of the fed courthouse building to wear a unique identifying code,” the judge said. “I’m kind of thinking a little bit like professional basketball or football jerseys — not with their names on it, but their numbers.”
The ACLU was excited about labeling the police, but was less enthusiastic about being put in charge of vetting authentic reporters, saying it doesn’t have the expertise — or, for that matter, enough vests to give out to designate people.
Judge Simon said he’ll ponder the idea more.
The Trump administration, during the Friday hearing, told Judge Simon the matter might be moot, because federal officers have pulled back from front-line enforcement under the deal between Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf.
After weeks of violent clashes outside the federal Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, Mr. Brown agreed to deploy the state police to protect the building, and Mr. Wolf said he would then withdraw the additional officers and agents he’d sent in.
The handoff took place Thursday and seemed to work immediately.
Portland police said there were mass marches and chants and some unruly behavior, including attempts to set fires inside the fence line at the federal courthouse that’s become the focal point of recent riots.
But both police and activists on the ground reported that the fires were quickly squelched by other protesters.
“Some people climbed on or near the fence at the federal courthouse, but others admonished them and they got down,” the Portland Police Bureau said in its recap of the night. “People could be heard in the crowd repeating that the protest was to remain peaceful.”
A similar scene played out Friday night as well, police said.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell credited the protesters for moderating their own behavior.
“Thank you to all those who demonstrated peacefully last night as well as those who interceded to stop any attempts to light fires or throw projectiles,” he said Friday. “It’s time to move forward and make transformative changes.”
Ms. Brown also crowed over the more peaceful rallies.
“Last night, the world was watching Portland. Here’s what they saw: Federal troops left downtown. Local officials protected free speech. And Oregonians spoke out for Black Lives Matter, racial justice and police accountability through peaceful, nonviolent protest,” she said.
On Saturday, though, some of the violence returned — and this time it involved city police.
Police said the area around the courthouse remained “peaceful,” with a crowd marching around downtown but avoiding major mischief. But east of downtown, across the Willamette River, a city office build that also houses some Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office services became the focal point of violent clashes where police say they faced bottle-throwing and lasers.
Activists took to Twitter, meanwhile, to complain that they were threatened and assaulted by police who used batons and pepper spray.