The clashes came on the anniversary of similar competing protests a year ago, after the murder of George Floyd. In that incident, a far-right protester was shot and killed after demonstrators and counterprotesters clashed. An anti-fascist activist suspected of the shooting was later killed in a confrontation with police.
Sunday’s violence occurred in two parts of the city, according to the Portland Police Bureau and local news reports.
At 2:30 p.m., hundreds of people gathered near a water splash pad in Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland, according to police. They were left-wing protesters, some of whom identified as antifa, or antifascists. They gathered to express opposition to a right-wing rally attended by, among others, members of the Proud Boys that was scheduled in Portland that same day, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.
Later in the afternoon, video footage posted online showed at least two individuals firing shots at each other in front of a pizza place nearby.
About 4 p.m., demonstrators were violently confronting each other at the parking lot, according to video footage and law enforcement.
Just before the violence started, one right-wing protester could be heard taunting another group of protesters. “Antifa, come on. Let’s play, let’s play,” the protester was recorded as saying, while another right-wing protester urged restraint by his colleagues, before saying: “The second they start attacking, we will unleash on them.”
About 30 minutes later, the scene erupted, with protesters shooting paintballs at each other, destroying a white van, detonating what appear to be small gas grenades and spraying chemicals at each other. The footage did not show uniformed law enforcement officials.
The city had been expecting the protests in the recent days but declined to actively intervene, citing among its reasons a lack of resources. The Portland police did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but Police Chief Chuck Lovell in the past has said that responding to every protest would strain his force’s ability to respond to other emergencies.
Police have not ruled out arrests linked to Sunday’s violence, though.
“As in past such events, we … will make arrests when probable cause exists that specific persons committed crimes. Just because arrests are not made at the scene … does not mean that people are not being charged with crimes later,” the police said in a statement.