Portland police were deputized as U.S. Marshals Saturday morning, meaning federal prosecutors can now bring charges against anyone who assaults them as they respond to what’s expected to be clashing demonstrations later in the day.
That could up the consequences for rioters on a day when both far-right and left-wing activists have planned gatherings in the Oregon city.
The last time there were dueling gatherings, a far-right activist was shot and killed by an Antifa supporter, who was later killed when he resisted arrest.
Police officials said their officers have faced “unspeakable violence” over the last few months. Racial justice protests have occurred throughout Portland, mostly peacefully, but on a near-nightly basis some of those protesters will arm themselves with shields and weapons and confront the police.
The local district attorney has been reluctant to pursue cases in many instances, so the U.S. attorney has stepped in to make federal cases where he can. Deputizing police makes that process much easier.
“I want violent individuals thinking about the enhanced penalties they may face if they harm a Portland Police Bureau Officer,” said Travis Hampton, superintendent of the state police.
U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, in a statement Friday, recounted some of the more recent violence against first responders, including a firefighter being shot in the chest with a steel ball bearing launched from an arm-mounted slingshot, and a man who splashed “high-powered bear deterrent spray” on officers.
He said the high-profile clashes have become a self-fulfilling cycle, drawing “outsiders” traveling to the city to be part of the clashes.
“Make no mistake: those who commit violence in the name of protest, will be investigated, arrested, prosecuted, and face prison time,” he said. “Already more than 100 people have been arrested and more than 80 people are facing federal charges related to protest violence.”