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Fires Set, Bottles Thrown: Police Call Portland Protest a Riot

(Associated Press) Protesters broke into a building, set it on fire and started dumpster fires late Saturday night in Oregon’s largest city, police said, as demonstrations that have been taking place since the death of George Floyd intensified for another night in Portland.

The fire at the Portland Police Association building was put out a short time later, Portland police said on Twitter. The department declared the gathering a riot, and began working to clear the downtown area.

“As the crowd was dispersed, several people in the crowd were arrested and officers were able to extinguish the fire. Portland Police did not use any CS gas,” the bureau said in a statement early Sunday. Several arrests were made.

Tear gas was deployed, according to pictures and video from the scene, but it was not necessarily CS gas. Fencing that had been placed around the federal courthouse had also been removed by protesters and made into barricades, police tweeted.

Police also said protesters had gathered on Saturday evening at the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct, vandalizing patrol vehicles and taunting officers who were reporting for work. Later, as police dispersed a group that had gathered near North Interstate Avenue, people threw rocks and paint-filled balloons at officers. Some were injured, the statement said.

President Donald Trump has decried the demonstrations, and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blasted the protesters as “lawless anarchists” in a visit to the city on Thursday.

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”

Before the aggressive language and action from federal officials, the unrest had frustrated Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local authorities, who had said a small cadre of violent activists were drowning out the message of peaceful protesters in the city. But Wheeler said the federal presence in the city is now exacerbating a tense situation and he has told them to depart.

“Keep your troops in your own buildings, or have them leave our city,” Wheeler said Friday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum late Friday sued Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court. The complaint said unidentified federal agents have grabbed people off Portland’s streets “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.”

Rosenblum said she was seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

The administration has enlisted federal agents, including the U.S. Marshals Special Operations Group and an elite U.S. Customs and Border Protection team based on the U.S.-Mexico border, to protect federal property.

But Oregon Public Broadcasting reported this week that some agents had been driving around in unmarked vans and snatching protesters from streets not near federal property, without identifying themselves.

Tensions also escalated after an officer with the Marshals Service fired a less-lethal round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon, issued a joint statement Saturday denouncing the Trump administration’s actions.

“We live in a democracy, not a banana republic. We will not tolerate the use of Oregonians, Washingtonians — or any other Americans — as props in President Trump’s political games. The House is committed to moving swiftly to curb these egregious abuses of power immediately,” they said.

Hundreds of people had gathered Friday night for a vigil outside the downtown Justice Center, which is sandwiched between two federal buildings, including a courthouse, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. Across the street, dozens of other protesters entered two recently closed city parks after dismantling chain-link fencing that blocked access.

Federal agents emerged from an office building next door and used impact munitions, stun grenades and tear gas to clear the area, the news organization reported. It said its journalists did not observe any incident that might have prompted the use of the weapons.

Federal officers deployed tear gas again just before midnight after a few protesters placed dismantled fencing in front of plywood doors covering the entrance of the federal courthouse.

Early Saturday, Portland police declared the gathering unlawful, saying protesters had piled fencing in front of the exits to the federal courthouse and the Multnomah County Justice Center and then shot off fireworks at the Justice Center.

Federal officers and local police then advanced simultaneously on the demonstrators to clear the streets, making arrests as protesters threw bottles and pieces of metal fence at police, the Portland Police Bureau said. Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell told reporters Friday that his officers are in contact with the federal agents, but that neither controls the others’ actions.

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