Police in Portland, Oregon have declared a riot after protesters breached a fence surrounding a court building where federal officers have been stationed during ongoing protests against police brutality and the presence of militarised law enforcement.
A police announcement condemned protesters’ “violent conduct” that created a “grave risk of public alarm” after a group of protesters had pulled down a section of fencing around 1.20am on Sunday.
“Dozens of people in the crowd maintained this level of violence and tumultuous conduct and were either intentionally or recklessly creating a grave risk of public alarm,” police said in a statement.
A crowd of roughly 200 people gathered outside the Portland Police Association office before moving to the federal courthouse. “Throughout the night some people in this crowd spent their time shaking the fence around the building, throwing rocks, bottles, and assorted debris over the fence, shining lasers through the fence, firing explosive fireworks into the area blocked by the fence, and using power tools to try to cut through the fence,” according to police.
Demonstrations continued through early Sunday morning after thousands of people gathered for another night of protests in the northwestern city, where protesters have assembled for more than 50 days in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other black Americans that have galvanised international calls for reform.
In a video message on Saturday, Portland police chief Chuck Lovell claimed that across the US “people are committing violence, supposedly in support of Portland”.
“If you want to support Portland then stop the violence, work for peace,” he said. “We want to be with you in the community and working on the real relationships that will create change. We want to get back to the critical issues that have been hijacked by people committing crimes under the cover of the crowds.”
The deployment of federal officers into American cities has renewed protests with demands for an end to their occupation.
As Donald Trump commanded the officers to protect federal properties and statues, Portland saw a surge of Department of Homeland Security forces, skirting constitutional barriers to policing and meeting demonstrators with a furious response.
Portland officials have demanded that the president remove the agents from the city.
While a federal court order has barred agents from targeting journalists and legal observers at demonstrations, another judge has rejected Oregon’s attorney general’s efforts to restrict federal officers in the city.
“In the first place, although it involves allegations of harm done to protesters by law enforcement, no protester is a plaintiff here,” US District Judge Michael Mosman said in his order on Friday. “In the second place, it is not seeking redress for any harm that has been done to protesters. Instead, it seeks an injunction against future conduct, which is also an extraordinary form of relief.”
Many protesters have equipped themselves with makeshift shields, umbrellas and face masks against a continuous barrage of tear gas cannisters, pepper spray and other weapons fired by police.
“Walls” of organised groups of military veterans, teachers, health workers, lawyers in suits and ties, mothers and fathers (equipped with leaf blowers to deter clouds of tear gas) have joined demonstrations, swelling in support of a Black Lives Matter movement and demanding federal agents withdraw from the city.
Small groups have caused visible damage to buildings, or fired fireworks, tossed water bottles and other objects and lit small fires, which has drawn the attention of a national and violent response. Demonstrators argue the that civil disobedience and damage to property provokes a police response that’s disproportionate to the action, underscoring the brutality they’re protesting against.
At least 60 people in Portland have been arrested by federal agents, and prosecutors are charging at least 46 people.
Protests against police brutality continued across the US on Saturday.
At least one man was killed in Austin, Texas, where a man in a car driving near a protest pointed a gun outside his window and fired several rounds before speeding away, according to police. One suspect has been arrested.
Seattle authorities also declared a riot in the Washington city, where at least 45 people were arrested after police fired flash bang grenades and rushed into crowds.