PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Portland, Oregon Wednesday for a sixth straight night. The massive crowd gathered in southeast Portland and marched across the Morrison Bridge, chanting as they packed into Waterfront Park, which stretches 30 acres along the Willamette River that divides the city in half.
In the park, organizers addressed the crowd. “We’ve waited 400 years for such a time as this right now,” the Rev. E.D. Mondaine, president of PDX NAACP, told the crowd.
Mondaine led the crowd in a protest song, then said: “We were convinced after the civil rights bill was passed that we were on our way to equality. But that veil was lifted in 2016. We had roaches! Oh, but I see before me: exterminators.”
Late Wednesday night, thousands were pressed against a chain link fence surrounding the Multnomah County Justice Center. Last Friday, protesters broke the front windows of that building and started a fire inside before police pushed them back with volleys of tear gas and concussion grenades.
The outcome of Wednesday’s standoff was unclear, but police warned over a loudspeaker that protesters would be subject to arrest or use of force if they “tampered with the fence or attempted to pass.”
City leaders criticized Portland police on Wednesday morning for their handling of the protests. City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said at a Wednesday morning council meeting — the first since the protests began, that she planned to introduce a plan to defund three Portland Police programs: the Gun Violence Reduction Team, which used to be called the Gang Enforcement Team; School Resource Officers, who patrol schools; and Transit Police, which puts police on Tri-Met buses and trains.
The Department of Justice found in 2014 that the Portland Police Bureau has a pattern of using excessive force against people with mental illness. In January this year, attorneys with the Department of Justice said the bureau was in “substantial compliance” with the settlement agreement that laid out reforms.
But after a night of lobbing tear gas canisters into largely peaceful crowds Tuesday, and an incident in which a police car sped through a group of protesters, narrowly missing one, city leaders said Wednesday that Portland police were again using excessive force.
“The Geneva Convention banned tear gas and I think we should too,” City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly said Wednesday. “I went to bed horrified by what I saw last night. And it is sadistic to be using tear gas in the middle of a public health crisis that’s attacking people’s respiratory systems.”
Farther north in Seattle, Mayor Jenny Durkan has agreed to meet with protesters after five days of demonstrations that have seen violent clashes with police and prompted more than 12,000 complaints to the city’s Office of Police Accountability.
“People have been gathering to demand change, to demand justice and to demand that the promise of America — the promise of America — not be just a promise for just the privileged few, but for all. Too many in America, and in Seattle are tired of words and promises. We must make real and durable change,” Durkan told a crowd gathered outside City Hall on Tuesday.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered again Wednesday at a park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood for a march downtown to the mayor’s office.
Durkan lifted a citywide curfew that was set to run through Saturday on Wednesday night.