Portlanders assembled downtown Tuesday for the 62nd consecutive night to protest police violence against Black people — and increasingly, the use of force by federal officers stationed downtown.
President Donald Trump’s administration dispatched dozens of federal officers to police at-times chaotic protests near the federal courthouse. Their nightly use of tear gas and impact munitions have reenergized protests and sparked nationwide criticism.
Within the crowd gathered Tuesday night, many people called for calm to keep the focus on the Black Lives Matter movement. The protests started in late May after the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
The calls for calm were met with periodic flashes of tension outside the federal courthouse, where a couple of people climbed a fence which people often threw trash over.
More than 500 people had gathered by sunset as Tuesday’s demonstrations got underway. Several Native people formed a hand drum circle and sang songs in a city park one block from the courthouse.
Federal officers briefly emerged from the building, attracting immediate attention and shouts from some protesters. The officers used a large hose to water down portions of the sidewalk in front of the building. The water stirred up irritants such as gas and pepper released at the previous night’s protests. Officers eventually went back inside, without setting off any more tear gas into the air.
Hundreds more people joined the crowd around 9:20 p.m., when marchers arrived from the waterfront as they chanted, “No justice, no peace!” The combined crowd surpassed 1,000 people.
By 9:30 p.m., the focus of the crowd had shifted away from the courthouse to the Justice Center next door. A series of Black and Indigenous speakers, including Cayuse and Samish people, addressed the crowd. Rows of self-identified veterans and mothers formed a barrier at the edge of the crowd on Southwest Third Street and Main Avenue.
Ethan Johnson, a Portland State professor who chairs the Black studies department, talked about the state’s racist history and the far-reaching impacts of racism today, which stretch beyond the criminal justice system. Education, healthcare and housing policies also have harmful effects, he said.
“Very little has substantively changed for Black and Indigenous people for a very long time,” said Johnson, drawing cheers.
Just after 9:45 p.m., federal officials used a loudspeaker for the first time to warn people not to damage the fence. About a dozen people were stood near it, in the dark, because the lights in the front of the courthouse were out. Some people had been throwing trash over the fence as most people focused on the speeches nearby.
Federal officers continued to warn people to stop damaging the fence past 10 p.m. Najee Gow, 22, of Portland, approached the small group near the courthouse and asked them to leave.
Gow, who is Black, said it was frustrating to see agitation overshadow the message of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“If you really want to respect Black lives and if you really want to respect Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, you’ll listen to the movement instead of antagonizing,” Gow said.
Some people did leave after Gow’s requests, but eventually the crowd began to grow. Several people in the hand drum circle moved to the front of the fence and sang more songs.
Federal officials issued periodic warnings. At least one came in response to a series of light bulbs thrown over the fence. Only a small group stood directly next to the fence. Most others stood several feet back. The crowd chanted, “Feds go home!”
The confrontation, and the rally next door, both continued past 10:45 p.m.
Around 11 p.m., more people approached the people gathered at the fence to press for peace. A firework exploded near the courthouse soon after. It was the second of the night, much less frequent than previous nights.
Around the same time, the rally started to wrap up.
Many marchers with parent groups moved to Third and Salmon Street, at the north corner of the federal courthouse. Demetria Hester stood at the front of the group, leading the crowd in chants of “Black lives matter!” and urging people to wake up to racism.
Hester was attacked on a MAX train by Jeremy Christian. Christian went on to kill two people and stab one other the next day in an attack that prosecutors described as xenophobic and racist.
Around 11:30 p.m., federal officials issued another warning to stop damaging the fence. Some people shined lights in the direction of the courthouse. Some people argued within the crowd about the intention of the protests.
Yet among the crowd, the mood remained relatively low-key. Some people danced to music. A tambourine played as people chanted. One person rapped into a microphone set up in the area, “I just want to see the feds go home and get out.”
The constant fence shaking and regular firework popping that had prompted federal response on previous nights were absent.
By midnight, about 600 people remained in the area. Some waited for the demonstrations to unfold in nearby city parks. Other people stood by a bonfire at the base of a deconstructed statue that is the site of almost nightly fires. The bonfire, fed by cardboard, drew some people away from the fence. It also fueled more arguments among protesters about keeping calm.
Around the same time, federal officials warned people again not to damage the fence. A few federal officers stood on a balcony at the courthouse, surveying the crowd and drawing jeers. One person climbed over the fence and sat down on the other side.
Around 12:10 a.m., a series of fireworks exploded and federal officials repeated their warning once more. Within minutes, federal officers shot pepper balls, then detained the person inside the fenced-off area, before retreating.
The crowd remained in the area, and by 12:30 a.m., federal officials delivered another warning to stop tampering with the fence. A second person had climbed the fence.
People continued to stand and chant near the fence. Somebody threw something over the fence around 12:40 a.m., and it caught trash on fire on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. Federal officers shot pepper balls from peepholes cut into the plywood surrounding the building. They aimed at people sitting atop the fence.
The fire grew slightly after someone threw something into it that shattered. Federal officers warned people at 12:50 a.m. that they would label the gathering an “unlawful assembly” if they did not stop.
In response, several people hit homemade shields made out of wood and trash can lids against the fence. Another firework burst beyond the fence. The fire that had started earlier mostly extinguished itself. By 1 a.m., about 500 people remained.
Although some people tossed things over the fence, including a scooter, the crowd mostly stood around and often chanted, “No justice, no police!” Fireworks exploded every so often, and appeared to have relit the sidewalk trash fire.
Federal officers shot another round of pepper balls in rapid succession around 1:20 a.m. Federal officers warned people that they could be arrested if they “throw fireworks and light fires on federal property.” A pair of fireworks exploded quickly after.
The Federal Protective Service declared the gathering unlawful just after 1:30 a.m. and ordered people to leave west or north. A few hundred people remained in the area.
Federal officers emerged minutes later with a hose to extinguish trash burning on the sidewalk. They also shot impact munitions toward protesters and released tear gas, for the first time that night. Officers sometimes targeted specific people near the fence with multiple shots.
Officers began to retreat within 10 minutes, as they did so, a large firework exploded. That triggered a final round of action before they went back inside the building around 1:45 a.m.
In recent days, the nightly protests have drawn thousands of people. The demonstrations often continue into the next day. The massive crowds have remained mostly peaceful, though some frontline protesters have thrown things or set fireworks over a fence surrounding the courthouse.
Earlier Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration had told Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office that it would begin to draw down the presence of federal agents if the state stepped up its own enforcement.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon asked a judge to find federal officers in contempt of his order that barred them from assaulting or threatening to assault journalists or legal observers during the protests.
Dave Killen, Eder Campuzano and Beth Nakamura of The Oregonian/OregonLive contributed to this report.
— Joe Freeman; [email protected]; 503-294-5183
— Ryan Nguyen; [email protected]; @ryanjjnguyen
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