Without Feds, Portland Protests Again Peaceful

Speakers address a crowd of over 1,000 protesters in Portland on Friday night. (Courthouse News photo/Karina Brown)

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Two nights without federal agents patrolling the federal courthouse in Portland has equaled two nights without violence, but President Donald Trump said that didn’t mean federal troops were leaving the city altogether.

“Homeland Security is not leaving Portland until local police complete cleanup of Anarchists and Agitators!” Trump tweeted on Friday night, the second night in a row without violent exchanges between protesters and law enforcement, and the second night since Governor Kate Brown announced a deal to replace the federal agents guarding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse with Oregon State Troopers.

Protesters in Oregon’s largest city have demonstrated every day since May 31 against systemic racism, police brutality and the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, by the Minneapolis Police Department. Peaceful protests of all kinds have ranged across the city, even on weekdays with temperatures reaching 100 degrees.

Citing what he claimed was local law enforcement’s inability to quell civil unrest, the president claimed he was sending federal officers with the U.S. Marshals Service, Customs and Border Patrol and the Department of Homeland Security to Portland to protect federal property. 

But agents’ actions quickly devolved into violence directed at peaceful protesters, journalists, legal observers and volunteer street medics.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Michael Simon floated the idea of requiring journalists to be identified by the blue vests issued to legal observers by the American Civil Liberties Union in order to avoid assault or arrest by federal agents under the court’s temporary restraining order.

An attorney for the ACLU said that would raise serious constitutional questions.

And federal agents have shown a willingness to assault legal observers wearing those vests. On the very night that Simon issued his restraining order, federal agents shot legal observer Kat Mahoney in the head with a pink paint ball as she stood across the street from the federal courthouse, observing the protest, according to Mahoney’s declaration

Later that same night, Mahoney says, a federal officer calmly doused her and three other legal observers with mace “as though he were watering a line of flowers.”

Gov. Brown announced Wednesday that the agents had “agreed to a phased withdrawal” and said federal officers would no longer stay in the city as an “occupying force” and would begin to withdraw Thursday.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf used less certain language in his own statement issued Wednesday, leaving open the possibility that federal agents wouldn’t leave the city.

“The department will continue to maintain our current, augmented federal law enforcement personnel in Portland until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked and that the seat of justice in Portland will remain secure,” Wolf said.

But on Thursday, Trump appeared to add a new condition to the withdrawal of federal troops. Speaking at the White House, Trump gave Gov. Brown a 48-hour deadline to “clean out this beehive of terrorists.” He said federal agents would slowly begin to leave Portland if that condition was satisfied. If not, he told reporters, he planned to send in the National Guard.

That night, Oregon State Troopers replaced federal agents as the only officers visible inside the steel fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse. They rarely appeared during the night and protests continued peacefully without police intervention.

On Friday, prosecutors charged a teen protester with arson over a fire they said he started on July 28. U.S. Attorney Billy Williams announced that federal agents with the ATF and the U.S. Marshals Service tracked down Gabriel Agard-Berryhill, who Williams claimed started a fire near the main entrance of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse by lobbing a “large incendiary object” over the steel fence federal agents erected and into the building’s stone portico, where it set fire to the plywood covering the doors and windows.

“No legitimate protest message is advanced by throwing a large explosive device against a government building,” Williams said in a statement.

Williams said Agard-Berryhill is the same person captured on photos holding a shield in front of “Naked Athena,” a protester who sat naked in front of advancing riot police to show them, she told reporters, what they were firing at. The charges against him carry a maximum of 20 years in prison, and a five-year minimum sentence.

The investigation included reviewing product reviews on Twitter filled out by Agard-Berryhill’s grandmother, according to Williams’ press release. In her review, Agard-Berryhill’s grandmother explained that she was pleased with her purchase of a distinctive green vest, which she says she got “for my grandson who’s a protester downtown, he uses it every night and says it does the job.” 

On Friday afternoon, Trump told reporters assembled in the White House Cabinet Room that protesters across the country are assaulting federal agents with Molotov cocktails and frozen water bottles the “size of a football.”

He added an allegation that protesters are throwing soup cans at federal agents that carry the force of a brick. When they get caught, Trump said, protesters claim it’s only “soup from my family.”

He said “the media” is supporting widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism by accepting protesters’ explanations about the soup cans. Trump said the media’s coverage of months of nationwide protests amounts to collective wonderment: “Isn’t it wonderful to allow protesting?”

The president then answered his own hypothetical question.

“No,” he said.

On Friday night, neither Molotov cocktails nor soup cans — family-made or otherwise — were readily apparent as protests continued at the federal courthouse. Speakers addressed the crowd from the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center, before heading next door to mill around the fence that still surrounds the federal courthouse. 

This time, though, there were no federal officers on the other side, who lately had been wielding both the guns to shoot tear gas canisters and leaf blowers to direct the billowing clouds toward protesters.

Instead, the stone portico and steps leading to the boarded up front doors of the courthouse were empty. Slung across the fence was a 10-foot wide American flag, hung upside down, with the letters BLM printed in big block letters across it. Clusters of balloons were tied to the fence and a dozen sunflowers — a symbol of the wall of moms — were threaded through its links.

Across the Willamette River, several hundred people rallied in honor of Xeryus “Iggy” Tate, a Portland teenager who was murdered four years ago. Dozens of cars wound their way through the city, honking and holding signs in a socially distanced car parade in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Even without fresh rounds of tear gas on Friday, and despite the work of city cleaning crews that power washed the streets, there was enough residual tear gas in the air around the federal courthouse to sting the eyes and make the skin tingle. Still, over 1,000 protesters stood in the blocked off street, chanting to the beat of a small drum corps.

“Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter! Black Lives Matter!”

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