PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Federal police with the Department of Homeland Security unleashed copious amounts of tear gas on a crowd of thousands Friday night that included a vibrant drum circle and organized groups of teachers, lawyers and nurses.
Several thousand protesters marched from Tom McCall Waterfront Park to the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, where they massed around the steel fence federal police erected, chanting “Black lives matter” and “this is what democracy looks like.”
The crowd, perhaps the largest yet during 58 consecutive days of civil unrest over systemic racism and police brutality, danced to the drums of over a dozen drummers while one block away, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty spoke to the crowd in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center.
“Justice should not be just for the rich, just for the white, just for the privileged,” Hardesty said to loud applause.
Ringing the federal courthouse were dozens of military veterans forming a protective wall to shield protesters from police — new that night — joined by moms dressed in yellow with their arms linked — a sight that has become ubiquitous since federal police began confronting protesters in Portland.
Protesters began shaking the fence outside the courthouse, so it wobbled in slow waves. Some shot fireworks into the stone portico behind the fence. A little more than an hour after the march arrived, federal police with the Department of Homeland Security opened the front doors and unleashed numerous canisters of tear gas, as well as at least one concussion grenade they shot directly into the crowd of peaceful protesters about 20 feet behind the fence.
Judge Michael Mosman on Friday refused to grant an order halting federal police from arresting protesters in Portland, finding that Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum didn’t prove that federal agents snatched protesters off the street in unmarked cars and without probable cause. Mosman issued his finding despite two pending federal investigations into the matter, announced Thursday by inspector generals for both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.
Fifteen Congressional representatives on Friday demanded the immediate resignation of Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, saying he orchestrated “horrific scenes” forcefully breaking up peaceful protests in Portland. Wolf visited Portland last week to meet with the federal police agencies he and President Donald Trump sent, but declined to meet with the media or take their questions.
“Your leadership of this Department has been rife with mismanagement, including inciting xenophobia and recently using federal agents to disrupt lawful, constitutionally protected protests,” the representatives’ letter states. “In particular, we cannot accept the Department’s recent use of unidentified federal agents, in military gear, patrolling the city of Portland, Oregon in unmarked vehicles, nor can we accept recent plans to expand this tactic to other American cities.”
Wolf has been in his position for 253 days now, despite being unconfirmed by Congress, Rep. Bonnie Coleman of New Jersey, Oregon Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Suzanne Bonamici wrote, along with 12 other representatives. The law allows unconfirmed cabinet members to serve for only 210 days. The representatives noted the discrepancy in their letter.
“It is our understanding that you have abused your power and position as Secretary of Homeland Security, especially as you have remained in an acting capacity well beyond the limit designated by federal law,” they wrote.
For several minutes on Friday night, federal police stood just inside the doors of the courthouse, shooting round after round of tear gas. Then they emerged to patrol the sidewalk inside the fence. At one point, protesters stood behind the fence without touching it.
“You’ve violated the U.S. Constitution,” one protester said to a federal cop as he approached the fence holding a canister of tear gas. “What are you doing? We’re Americans!” the protester yelled as the cop calmly dropped the canister at the protester’s feet.
Meanwhile, federal police appeared to have adopted a protester tactic: for the first time, they held leaf blowers to direct their own toxic gas back into the crowd. On the side of the building, protesters projected words in big block letters.
Emblazoned across the federal courthouse were the words “I CAN’T BREATHE” and “BLACK LIVES MATTER.”