As the Black Lives Matter-inspired vigil wound down early Friday morning, there was virtually no sign of the Oregon State Police officers who had taken over protection of the federal buildings at the center of the protests.
Instead of being forcibly removed from downtown’s Lownsdale Square and the adjacent Chapman Square, which lie opposite the barricaded Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse, the crowd thinned out on its own, with many protesters heading home of their own accord.
By a little after 1 a.m., only a relatively small crew remained, far down from the enormous crowd that had gathered four hours earlier to listen to speakers and chant anti-law enforcement slogans. The mood was celebratory, if subdued.
“Trump overplayed his hand,” said Derrick, a 30-year-old protester wearing a helmet, ski goggles and carrying a shield with the Oregon flag on it. “He underestimated us.”
“I don’t think he realizes there are so many people aligned with the so-called antifa, what he calls terrorists,” added Derrick, who asked that his full name not be published.
The Trump administration had sent dozens of officers from various law enforcement agencies to Portland in early July. President Trump justified the decision by saying local officials had “lost control of the anarchists and agitators,” while Attorney General William P. Barr alleged that more officers had been injured than protesters.
But the move caused anger among protesters, who accused the officers of responding aggressively to largely peaceful protests, and left both Portland’s mayor and Oregon’s governor at odds with the president.
On Wednesday night, only hours after Gov. Kate Brown (D) announced an agreement that would see federal law enforcement leave Portland, protesters and officers clashed in some of the most violent scenes yet, with tear gas, pepper balls and other irritants used repeatedly to disperse the crowd after 11 p.m.
Before dawn, the Portland Police Bureau cleared the downtown parks that had been used as a semi-permanent base during the protests, and later in the day around 100 state officers arrived. In an interview with the Oregonian, Travis Hampton, superintendent for the Oregon State Police, said his officers would have a measured approach.
“You will find these Oregon State Police troopers are not easily provoked,” he told the newspaper.
The protests on Thursday attracted a similar size crowd as other recent nights. While there were some attempts at provocation, including fireworks and thrown rocks, the state police officers remained confined to the building and could only occasionally be seen looking out onto the protests.
Some protesters said that without a notable police presence, the crowd had a different atmosphere. “It’s much more low-key and a bit more subdued,” said Shannon Echavarria, a 53-year-old pet care professional, speaking at around 10 p.m. “Normally by this time, people would be banging on that fence. There’d be fireworks. They’d be pouring debris over.”
Echavarria said the change in tone was “100 percent because the feds are leaving.” But the different atmosphere seemed to take some protesters by surprise. Many had arrived wearing helmets and gas masks, but found themselves sitting on the grass of the park when they would have been running away on previous nights.
“Well, looks like there won’t be much of a battle tonight,” one man said at midnight to a group of shield-wielding protesters. Minutes later, a small fire was started inside the cordoned off area outside the courthouse, though protesters quickly put it out before it could spread.
Some protesters were wary of the state police, noting the city police had used tear gas to dispel protesters long before federal officers arrived. Other protesters noted that Trump had on Thursday warned he could call in the National Guard.
But most protesters seemed to welcome the calm and believed Portland’s protests would keep their momentum. “That will draw families back to the protests. Ultimately, while we wanted the feds out, this was really about Black Lives Matter,” Echavarria said.
As the crowd lingered toward the end of the night, a freestyling rapper named No Shoes said that the time was right to just focus on having fun.
“I think this might be the first time we didn’t get gassed,” he told his audience.