First Responders

Citing Inadequate Resources, Portland Police Watched as Right- and Left-Wing Demonstrators Clashed, Rioted

August 25, 2020Ethan E. Rocke
Screenshot from @MrOlmos video on Twitter

Screenshot from @MrOlmos video on Twitter

BEAVERTON, Oregon — In a scene familiar to many Portland residents, political ideologies clashed in often violent confrontations between right-wing demonstrators and counterprotesters in the area around the Multnomah County Justice Center in downtown Portland Saturday.

Rallying around noon under banners such as “No Marxism in America,” “Back the Blue,” and “Trump 2020,” hundreds of right-wing protesters converged on the area where demonstrators have frequently gathered to protest police brutality and racial injustice since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer in May.

As the opposing protesters attacked each other with paintball guns, fireworks, mace, rocks, bats, and shields with nails in them, Portland police remained almost completely disengaged, making announcements from the bureau’s sound truck and asking for the groups to separate, move to the sidewalks, and self-monitor for criminal activity.

“While the activity in the group met the definition of a riot, [the Portland Police Bureau] did not declare one because there were not adequate police resources available to address such a declaration,” PPB said in a press release. “PPB had roughly 30 officers available for crowd management, and there were several hundred individuals associated with the events downtown.”

PPB said there were only four available police cars in the city to respond to emergency calls for service.

“Incident commanders have to weigh out the entire situation to determine if police action is likely to make things safer or not,” the PPB release said. “In this case, there were hundreds of individuals and many weapons within the groups and an extremely limited amount of police resources actually available to address such a crowd. Additionally, PPB members have been the focus of over 80 days of violent actions directed at the police, which is a major consideration for determining if police resources are necessary to interject between two groups with individuals who appear to be willingly engaging in physical confrontations for short durations.”

Saturday’s demonstrations marked the start of the 87th consecutive day of protests in Portland, and police worked late into the night Friday after declaring a riot and struggling to disburse protesters. On Thursday night, police declared an unlawful assembly after protesters vandalized the Immigration and Customs Enforcement building, blocked traffic, set dumpster fires, and threw projectiles at federal officers.

Saturday morning, President Donald Trump again directed attention to Portland, tweeting that it was “another bad night of Rioting in Portland, Oregon […] Wanting to be asked by City & State to STOP THE RIOTS. Would bring in National Guard, end problem immediately. ASK!”

Saturday’s demonstration was full of right-wing protesters representing myriad affiliations and causes. Some wore attire signifying their affiliation with the Proud Boys while others carried shields or signs supporting Trump or waved “Thin Blue Line” flags. The Proud Boys — designated a hate group by some organizations — have staged and participated in rallies in Portland for years.

Various reporters on Saturday identified a man who pointed a revolver at left-wing demonstrators as Proud Boys member Alan Swinney. Portland police said they learned of the incident through media reporting about a social media post, and they’re looking for further information from the public.

Violent attacks by right-wing activists against those demonstrating for racial justice in Portland have increased recently.

Portland police arrested 27-year-old right-wing protester Skylor Jernigan Wednesday for allegedly firing two gunshots at a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators Aug. 15 after a conservative “flag wave” rally downtown. Jernigan has been charged with two felony counts of unlawful use of a weapon, menacing, recklessly endangering another person with a weapon, and discharging a firearm in the city.

The FBI is assisting local police with their investigation into an Aug. 8 incident in which someone threw improvised explosives in southeast Portland’s Laurelhurst Park. Portland police are also investigating reports of another explosive thrown downtown Aug. 15.

Law enforcement officials have told local media that one of their main challenges is finding cooperating witnesses among people protesting against police.

Police made no arrests at the rallies Saturday, and some media noted that Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, a former member of the Washington-based Patriot Prayer group who has an active warrant out for his arrest, was among the crowd.

“Crowd management events are complex, especially when they involve groups with differing ideologies with members who wish to engage in physical confrontations,” PPB Chief Chuck Lovell said in a release. “PPB had to be judicious with our limited resources today especially since many of our members worked during the riot this morning and had very little sleep. Our resources are finite and we also have emergency calls for service to manage across the City. We are investigating criminal acts when we are aware of them and ask for any victims to come forward so we can build the best case we can for enhanced outcomes for prosecution.”

After right-wing demonstrators made their exit around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, counterdemonstrators moved to Terry Schrunk Federal Plaza — a block from the Justice Center — where Department of Homeland Security officers were staged. Federal agents declared an unlawful assembly after protesters filled the park’s amphitheater and chanted “feds go home.” It was unclear what prompted the declaration.

Ethan E. Rocke
Ethan E. Rocke

Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He served as an infantryman with the 101st Airborne Division, deploying once to Kosovo for peacekeeping operations. He then joined the US Marine Corps, serving in Okinawa and the Asia-Pacific region with III Marine Expeditionary Force and at the Marine Corps Motion Picture and Television Liaison Office in Los Angeles, where he served as a consultant on dozens of television shows and documentaries and several feature films. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.

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