- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown agreed Wednesday to send in state police to protect the federal courthouse in Portland, and Homeland Security said it will remove its additional officers and agents, signaling a possible solution to months of violent clashes that have stained the city.

Ms. Brown and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf announced the deal in separate statements, and gave differing accounts of how quickly the federal officers will withdraw. She said they will begin to leave Thursday, while he says they will stick around until the police prove they can — and will — protect the courthouse.

But the outlines of the agreement still marked a major breakthrough, with Mr. Wolf saying he’s been trying to get the local police to handle things for weeks.

“We’re happy to have them on the team,” he told reporters in announcing the deal.

For her part Ms. Brown, a Democrat, portrayed her decision to deploy state police as a matter of protecting protesters — though she seemed eager to turn the page from what has become an embarrassment for Oregon’s largest, and famously liberal, city.

“Our local Oregon State Police officers will be downtown to protect Oregonians’ right to free speech and keep the peace,” Ms. Brown said on Twitter. “Let’s center the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice and police accountability. It’s time for bold action to reform police practices.”

She did take another shot at the feds, calling them “an occupying force” that “brought violence.”

Ms. Brown said she expects Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel, who were deployed over the last month to help the Federal Protective Service defend the courthouse, “will leave downtown Portland” starting Thursday.

Mr. Wolf insisted the agents and officers will remain “in the area” until police prove themselves up to the task of preventing protesters from breaching the courthouse. He said that will take some days.

“DHS law enforcement officers that are there today will remain in Portland until we are assured that Oregon State Police and the plan the governor has put together is successful,” he said.

The differing accounts underscored the different audiences each was trying to assuage — for Ms. Brown, the vocal protesters, and for Mr. Wolf, a vocal president.

But Mr. Wolf said the agreement is exactly what he’s been asking from the governor for weeks.

“I’m glad she did it. I wish she would have done it earlier,” he said.

He said the breakthrough happened about five days ago, while Ms. Brown was talking with Vice President Mike Pence about the coronavirus, where Oregon is one of the states experiencing a surge in cases and deaths.

Mr. Wolf said Ms. Brown, after weeks of declining to have state and local police get involved, said she was ready to do so, if it would pave the way for the feds to curtail their presence.

Ms. Brown and Mr. Wolf then talked through the details.

A spokesman for Mr. Pence confirmed Mr. Wolf’s vision of the deal, saying on Twitter the vice president told the governor that “federal law enforcement will remain in Portland until violence directed toward them & the federal courthouse is brought to an end.”

Portland has experienced marches every day for more than 60 days, dating back to the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

Most of the protesters have been peaceful, all sides said — but some demonstrators have used the occasion to try to attack the federal Hatfield Courthouse in the city’s downtown.

With the U.S. Marshals and Federal Protective Service overwhelmed, Homeland Security deployed CBP and ICE personnel for reinforcements. But local officials say that only enflamed the protests, sparking more violence, which was met with even stiffer response by the feds.

Over the last month federal officers have been pelted with bottles, been blinded by high-intensity lasers, tried to duck attacks from commercial-grade mortar-launched fireworks, and dealt with Molotov cocktails and fires.

Protesters, meanwhile, say they’ve been tear-gassed and fired at with less-lethal rounds such as pepper balls and impact projectiles.

“Federal agents nearly killed a demonstrator, and their presence has led to increased violence and vandalism in our downtown core,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said Wednesday on Twitter.

He’s been at the center of the matter, having marched with protesters — and gotten a face full of tear gas.

He’s also fueled some of the unrest, including taking to Twitter last week to spread an unsubstantiated rumor that federal agents had been authorized to use live ammunition on protesters. He acknowledged that the U.S. attorney told him it was not true, but he still posted the rumor, saying he felt protesters should know it was out there.

Federal officials say Mr. Wheeler has ordered Portland police not to protect federal-government property, which is why they had to deploy the additional federal agents.

Mr. Wheeler issued similar orders in 2018, when violent protests shut down an ICE office building in the city for weeks.

Attorney General William P. Barr this week said that’s what sets Portland apart from the protests in the rest of the country.

“Even where there are these kinds of riots occurring, we haven’t had to put in the kind of reinforcements that we have in Portland because the state and local law enforcement does their job and won’t allow rioters to come and just physically assault the courthouse,” he said. “In Portland, that’s not the case.”

Portland police have, however, been observers of the clashes, issuing daily recaps.

They describe a nightly routine of large crowds of demonstrators gathering to listen to racial justice speeches, chant slogans, block traffic and bang on the fence surrounding the federal courthouse.

As the night progresses most protesters leave but a core group remains and grows more confrontational.

On Tuesday night, protesters fired commercial grade fireworks at the courthouse and threw bottles and rocks, and some attempted to climb the protective fence. A large fire was also set. Federal agents allowed the activity to go on for a couple hours, then dispersed the crowd.

Portland police noted that they did not engage with the crowds themselves.

Mr. Wolf said under the new deal, police will now engage, working to keep violent protesters from reaching the courthouse in the first place and dealing with them if they do.

But Mr. Wheeler, on Twitter, suggested a more limited role.

“The Oregon State Police, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, & Portland Police Bureau will continue working together to keep Portlanders safe, and the governor and I have given clear direction: we expect that they will continue engaging only if there is violent criminal activity,” he said.

Mr. Barr told Congress on Tuesday that without the federal officers, he believes the protesters would have burned the courthouse to the ground.

He said the courthouse is usually protected by a small contingent of U.S. Marshals, which he said isn’t a threat to anyone’s First Amendment rights.

“When people are arrested, it’s because they’re trying to come into the fence,” he said. “When you have, you know, 100, 120 federal people behind a fence trying to protect the building and all these people are trying to cut their way in. That is the occupation of a city?”

Mr. Wolf said 245 Homeland Security law enforcement agents and officers have been injured in the clashes, ranging from minor scrapes to serious wounds. Several officers may have been permanently blinded by protesters’ lasers.

He said federal agents have made 94 arrests.

Oregon politicians seemed relieved to be on the cusp of moving beyond the embarrassing videos and photos of their marquee city, which they suggested had derailed the focus on racial justice issues.

“Trump’s strategy to shift attention away from Black Lives Matter and the reform of systemic racism must not succeed,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon Democrat.

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