Unlike Thursday evening, when there was an air of celebration, the tone of the protest on Friday evening seemed more somber and, at times, conflicted.
Without the federal officers sent by the Trump administration to rally against — not to mention the threat of tear gas, rubber bullets and arrests they brought with them — the protesters tackled more complicated questions among themselves.
Some favored a confrontation, setting off firecrackers or throwing projectiles at the still-fenced-off courthouse. Others argued that a more measured approach was needed. When a group of black-clad protesters set an American flag on fire, a group of mothers quickly moved to extinguish it and sparked a shouting match.
“You’re on the same side!” one protester on the sidelines yelled, trying to de-escalate the situation as a small group nearby sang: “There’s no such thing as a bad protester.”
The fire died out, though larger fires were soon started in its place. Right-wing activists shared videos of the flames on social media and suggested that local police were not doing enough to disperse the crowd, though there appeared to have been no substantial damage caused.
The protests in Portland began in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May. Though the city is often associated with liberal politics and has a long-standing protest movement, it is also one of the whitest large U.S. cities and has a history of racism.
Crowds of thousands had gathered outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse for more than two months. In July, the Trump administration sent more than 100 law enforcement officers to protect federal property. The arrival of the officers seemed to galvanize the movement, bringing a wider portion of Portland’s population to protest what they saw as unfair and aggressive police tactics.
After weeks of escalating violence, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Wednesday announced she had reached a deal with the Trump administration for state police to take over guarding the courthouse.
After the first night of the new arrangement passed without violence, Brown said it was a victory for the city. “The president’s decision to send federal troops to Portland was a political stunt and it backfired,” the governor said in a video statement Friday.
But as a large crowd gathered hours later outside Portland’s Justice Center, adjacent to the federal courthouse, it was also clear that protesters had their own scars from the weeks of action.
At the start of the night, a number of speakers apologized for their hoarse voices, saying they had been out for “60-something” days. Throughout the evening, protesters could be heard coughing and saying they believed the once-nightly tear gas had infiltrated the dust in the two parks outside the courthouse.
The crowd on Friday evening was larger than in previous nights. Whereas the speeches at the start of the night had once focused on the removal of federal law enforcement officers, on Friday, those officers were rarely mentioned. For many here, the larger battle is ongoing: There are still widespread calls to defund the city police or improve inequalities in housing access, for example.
“Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!” the president tweeted in the evening, referring to some federal officers still in the city.
In a statement released early Saturday, Portland City Police acknowledged that a large fire had been started with debris at around 1:30 a.m. outside the courthouse.
“Over the next hour the number of people dwindled to a few dozen,” the statement said. “There was no police interaction with the crowd.”