Police early Thursday cleared the park that had been used as the staging area for attacks on the federal courthouse in Portland, Oregon, as local officials began to make good on their promise to step up security so federal forces could draw back.
The move came after another night of clashes that saw demonstrators throw objects and breach the fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse, and federal police push back with tear gas.
The protesters chanted “Feds go home,” aware that under a deal between Gov. Kate Brown and the Trump administration, Homeland Security agents and officers are supposed to begin leaving Thursday and state police will take over the lead on calming protests.
Clearing Lownsdale Square, a park across the street from the courthouse, was the first step.
Portland police announced the clearing around 5 a.m., saying everyone including journalists had to go. Those who remained were subject to arrest, police said. And hour later, they announced on Twitter that the move had been successful.
During the clearing they reported finding a sledge hammer, body armor, gas cans and “improvised weapons.” Earlier this week police said they found a cache of Molotov cocktails and rifle magazines in the park.
As of Thursday morning pedestrians were banned from the streets around the park, effectively creating a buffer zone to protect the courthouse. Police said they’ve already made arrests for violation of the shutdown.
Mayor Ted Wheeler said the parks were cleared at the request of the state police “as part of the plan for federal officers to leave our community.”
Federal officials say getting local police to step up had been their goal all along. They said if police had protected the courthouse during the riots, the additional Homeland Security agents and officers wouldn’t have been necessary.
Mr. Wheeler has been at the center of those complaints.
Two years ago, when demonstrators attacked an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in the city, shutting it down for weeks, he ordered city police not to get involved.
Portland police say they’d also been told to stand down this year as racial justice demonstrations, which erupted after George Floyd’s death, spiraled into nightly clashes at the federal courthouse.
As the clashes escalated, Homeland Security deployed law enforcement personnel from ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to help with security around the courthouse.
Mr. Wheeler claims that deployment further inflamed protesters — though federal officials point out the protests were already raging out of control before the deployment.
After a weeks-long standoff, Ms. Brown and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf struck a deal on Wednesday. Ms. Brown promised the state police would step in to secure the area around the courthouse, and Mr. Wolf said once that happens he’ll take out the additional federal forces.
President Trump, weighing in on Twitter from Washington Thursday morning, said Ms. Brown, the Democratic governor, still wasn’t doing enough.
“She must clear out, and in some cases arrest, the Anarchists & Agitators in Portland. If she can’t do it, the Federal Government will do it for her. We will not be leaving until there is safety!” he tweeted.
The governor told the president to butt out.
“I think we’ve had enough political grandstanding from DC,” she 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.”