The riverfront city will mark 100 days of consecutive demonstrations Saturday, and the months of sometimes violent confrontations have left many here angry about police tactics, unhappy at people wreaking havoc and enraged at the mayor, Ted Wheeler, over policing issues and for failing to prevent clashes between left- and right-wing actors.
President Trump has assailed leaders in Portland and other cities for failing to maintain order as he seeks to highlight unrest in major cities on the campaign trail. Trump and his administration have ramped up the criticism since a man was fatally shot last week in Portland following confrontations between Trump supporters and counterprotesters.
After that shooting, Oregon officials pledged a stronger law enforcement response ahead of the two flash points set for this weekend: Saturday’s march and sit-in opposing police brutality and a pro-Trump rally scheduled for Monday honoring Aaron Danielson, who was killed in last week’s shooting.
To enhance policing, the U.S. Marshals Service has deputized some state troopers, enabling federal charges to be brought against people they arrest, according to a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Oregon. The move angered some activists who marched to a police precinct Wednesday, demanding to keep “brownshirts” out of Portland and condemning “another federal invasion.”
But some residents said they’ve become weary of the nightly clashes and vandalism. Corinne Foster, a resident of Portland’s east side, said she initially sympathized with demonstrations against police brutality and racism but has become fed up after they began to take a destructive turn.
“It’s destroyed our town,” said Foster, 63. “It’s destroyed our downtown. Most of our buildings have graffiti.”
She wants more community-oriented policing but opposes calls to abolish or defund police departments, citing violence on the streets of Portland as an example of the need. Recent events have made her rethink her decision to move here.
“I love this city and I want to stay, but I’m afraid,” she said.
Others took issue with aspects of the law enforcement response and the far-right groups coming from out of town.
Andrew Chabon, who lives downtown, said he worries the Trump administration’s threats of an increased federal response could exacerbate tensions and fears far-right groups may keep stirring things up.
“The police can only do so much,” said Chabon, 38. “At some point, hopefully, it’s going to stop.”
Even as other cities have seen demonstrations grow and recede since George Floyd’s killing in May, Portland has remained Portland — a place long home to protests, with a history of both far-left activism and white supremacist factions.
Pressure has also been growing on Wheeler (D), with demonstrators protesting outside his home, demanding he resign for what they saw as an insufficient response to calls for policing reform. After protests outside his condominium building — including one this week in which people set fires in the street and inside an office in his high rise — Wheeler announced that he would move.
Trump this week proclaimed that the city of Portland “is ablaze all the time,” but the largest clashes have focused on particular areas, including the downtown federal courthouse, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building near the waterfront and several police precincts throughout the city.
The scars of unrest are most visible downtown, where anti-police graffiti is visible on buildings, street signs and sidewalks. Other areas, such as the popular streets on the east side dotted with microbreweries, record and vintage shops, hip restaurants and storefronts with Black Lives Matter displays, bear no such signs of the violent protests often blared across cable news and social media.
“This whole mentality, whether it comes from Donald Trump or local law enforcement, that the city is on fire, it’s all crazy. The city is beautiful,” said Aliza Kaplan, a professor at Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland. “The stuff you’ve been seeing over the last few months is so blown out of proportion and over a couple of blocks.”
Kaplan said authorities were shifting the narrative, turning attention away from “issues of reform and issues of racial justice.” But, she said, “it’s not keeping the protesters from going out there.”
At the waterfront area near the ICE facility — a changing industrial neighborhood rife with new developments and high-rise apartment buildings — some residents, workers and others visiting for appointments said they had grown wary of the unrest in the area. But they were still broadly supportive of the protesters’ actions, criticizing the harsh police responses to the activists and the nightly ruckus that followed after unlawful assemblies were declared.
“People get out of hand. . . . If it’s taken this long for things to change and this is what is needed for things to change, I’m fine with it even if it costs me a little bit of money,” said Armando Garcia, 40, who lives on the fifth floor of a building in the neighborhood.
Garcia said that police tend to exacerbate the tensions and that he was more concerned about the possibility of far-right groups he depicted as outside agitators.
“That’s when I’m worried that somebody’s going to get shot; that’s when I’m worried that somebody’s going to get killed,” Garcia said. “The other times, there’s going to be a little property damage.”
Since Danielson was killed, police have released few details about their investigation, nor have they publicly named a suspect in the case. Friends of Danielson said he supported the far-right group Patriot Prayer, and the group has alleged he may have been targeted for wearing a hat with its insignia.
The pro-Trump rally set for Monday to honor Danielson is not scheduled to go through Multnomah County, which includes Portland, according to a Facebook event posting. The post did not give an exact location, only that the caravan would stay on freeways, and said “we Are Not going off route.”
Last week’s pro-Trump caravan descended into clashes after participants went off-route, according to an organizer, and shot paintballs and pepper spray at activists who lobbed rocks and projectiles.
Margaret Wehr, who lives in Portland and said she has participated in some protests, described both the mayor and police as not taking the threat of violence seriously enough.
Wehr, 32, said protests against police brutality are often declared unlawful assemblies and then force is used, even on people without weapons. Then, she said, armed groups come into the city from outside and are treated differently.
“We know in advance they’re planning to bring weapons,” she said. “And none of those similar measures are taken. And that has left me feeling extremely unsafe in my own city.”
Greg Pashley, a Portland Police Bureau spokesman, responded to complaints about force with a statement contending the department “has worked for almost a decade to reform the use of force, as well as training, reporting and accountability regarding the use of force. . . . We will continue working with community partners on reform.”
Wheeler’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but he told local news station KOIN: “What we do not need is groups confronting each other violently. But we will be prepared for it. We are working with both our local law enforcement partners and state law enforcement partners. We will keep separation as much as we’re able to keep separation and if people are engaged in criminal activity we’ll do our level best to hold them accountable.”
Wehr said that as the risk increases of more clashes, she hopes demonstrators will be less willing to engage with outside groups, because then the “narrative becomes, ‘Look at the violence.’ ”
Demonstrators at Portland’s nightly protests have pilloried a police force they say mistreats people of color and uses unnecessary force. Those complaints rose anew this week when an officer in Portland was recorded repeatedly striking a protester who had fallen to the ground.
Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell on Wednesday said videos of force by officers “raise legitimate concerns” and said some officers have been removed from crowd control while their actions are reviewed. Lovell wrote on Twitter that the police bureau’s forces “have endured much over the last 3 months and have overwhelmingly performed their duties in a way I admire.”
After last weekend’s shooting, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) acknowledged that the months of protests in Portland had stretched police thin and laid out what her office called a law enforcement plan to both “protect free speech and bring violence and arson to an end in Portland.”
Part of this plan involved asking the sheriff’s offices in Clackamas and Washington counties, along with the police in neighboring Gresham, Ore., to support the Portland police “with personnel and resources.”
These officials quickly, and publicly, pushed back.
Robin Sells, the Gresham police chief, said in an email to The Washington Post that Brown “released her plan without consultation with the listed agencies. At this time, Gresham Police Department will not be assisting our colleagues at Portland Police Bureau.”
Pat Garrett, the Washington County sheriff, said in a statement that he was committed to supporting the Portland police “through indirect ways,” including air support, or aiding with specific investigations. But Garrett said he would not send deputies to Portland, citing “the lack of political support for public safety, the uncertain legal landscape [and] the current volatility combined with intense scrutiny on use of force.”
Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts also said Brown’s plan caught him by surprise, adding that had he been asked, “I would have told her it’s about changing policy not adding resources.” In a statement, Roberts said there needs to be “a policy that holds offenders accountable for their destruction and violence,” arguing that people keep getting arrested, released and then are out the next night.
Charles Boyle, a spokesman for Brown, said in a statement that her plan “is meant to allow for local flexibility in supporting each other as we all collectively deal with the difficult situation in Portland.”
“It is up to each county to determine the personnel and resources they have available to volunteer for this effort,” Boyle said.
Boyle said the governor has “clearly stated” that she “believes that individuals should be held accountable for their actions, and they should be charged and booked if they have committed serious criminal offenses.”
Brown’s plan said the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office would “prosecute serious criminal offenses, including arson and physical violence.” A spokesman for Mike Schmidt, the district attorney, said Brown reached out to him before announcing the plan and that he supported her efforts.
Other residents have had to adjust how they move about in their city as the unrest has continued. Bill Neudek has lived in Portland for more than two decades, but now he has to avoid the city’s downtown due to the clashes between police and protesters.
“My doctor’s advised me that I’m not supposed to get tear-gassed,” said Neudek, 63, who was on his way to a chemotherapy treatment for lung cancer.
Neudek said he felt the city let things get too far out of hand. As a result, he said, the city’s downtown “is boarded up tight — it’s post-apocalyptic.”
Berman reported from Washington.