Violent protests in downtown Portland, Oregon, are expected to continue Monday, marking the 40th night of demonstrations that took a turn for the worse over the holiday weekend as commercial-grade fireworks were shot at police officers and explosives and machetes were found on arrestees.
In what the U.S. attorney for the district of Oregon described as a “significant escalation in violence,” demonstrators over the holiday weekend targeted judicial buildings. The crowd hurled firebombs, incendiary devices, and explosive mortars at the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center in an attempt to burn it down or break-in. Others used baseball bats to break down the doors, which were later boarded up by the city.
Public demonstrations across the city have continued for weeks following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died while a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck in May. While peaceful protests and marches have continued to a lesser extent in other cities, the nightly demonstrations in Portland are increasingly violent, with city officials legally deeming them “riots” in recent days.
President Trump offered last week to send the military into any city, but Portland’s Democratic mayor and Oregon’s governor have not accepted the invitation. However, the city has accepted federal reinforcements from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Ahead of the Fourth of July weekend, dozens of federal agents and officers were called in to assist local police who have been unable to prevent large crowds in Portland from tearing down and burning statues and torching and looting businesses. Protesters became focused last week on attacking the federal courthouse downtown, which is guarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service officers.
Mark Morgan, performing the duties of CBP commissioner, said Border Patrol agents who had been sent to Portland were struck by frozen water bottles, beer bottles, frozen eggs, rocks, bottle rockets, and commercial-grade fireworks over the weekend, and several were injured. Following the arrest of one attacker Saturday night, agents found a pipe bomb, fused explosive device, machete, and knife on the man.
“These are not protesters, these are criminals who got together and organized and planned and actually brought weapons, they brought shields, they brought frozen water bottles, rocks, lasers, weapons with the intent to destroy a federal building and harm law enforcement officers,” Morgan said in an interview Sunday.
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were among the worst days for the city’s police force, leading it to respond only to emergency calls due to a staff shortage, since many were pulled to downtown. Portland police said what started early Friday evening as a peaceful demonstration in the street turned into protesters burning an American flag outside one government building. Shortly after 10 p.m. PDT, people started shooting commercial-grade fireworks at the justice center and federal courthouse. Police warned people that if they did not stop, they may be arrested or subject to use of force. The shooting of fireworks continued. The outside of the courthouse’s first floor is covered in graffiti and remains closed.
Officials declared a riot, and while attempting to disperse the crowd, officers were struck by bricks, mortars, M-90s, and flammable items, according to Portland police. The police deployed tear gas.
“This is the second time in a day a riot was declared in Downtown Portland due to the activities of many that put other’s lives at risk; this is unacceptable,” said Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell. “Our community deserves better than nightly criminal activity that destroys the value and fabric of our community.”
The protests continued Sunday night as a couch outside the courthouse was torched.
Portland police arrested dozens of people who will face possible federal charges that include damage to government property and assault on law enforcement officers, according to DHS. Police have disclosed the names of those arrested but not described who is leading the attacks.
“The lawless and violent acts of extremists across the political spectrum cannot continue. Violence directed at federal, state, and local law enforcement and property destruction is inconsistent with the aims of social justice,” U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon Billy J. Williams said in a statement. “These are criminal acts and individuals who engage in them will be held accountable.”