As federal law enforcement occupies Portland, protests regain momentum

Protesters filled 3rd Avenue between Southwest Main and Madison for a candlelight vigil and multiple speakers addressed the crowd on the steps leading to a boarded-up Multnomah County Justice Center on July 17.

The vigil was a continuation of the protests against police brutality following the killing of George Floyd—a Black man—by a white police officer; it was also a response to the stationing of federal law enforcement in Portland by President Trump as an attempt to quell the protests. Among the speakers were community members, faith leaders, and Portland City Council member Jo Ann Hardesty who organized the vigil.

“We stand united against a federal occupying force,” Hardesty said. The previous night federal law enforcement grabbed protesters off the street and pulled them into unmarked vans, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting

Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf denounced the protests on Twitter earlier on July 17, according to KOIN News. Around the same time, Oregon U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley tweeted to President Trump, “Get your DHS lackey and uninvited paramilitary actions out of my state. Our communities are not a stage for your twisted reelection campaign.”

A protester holds a sign in reference to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf, who visited Portland on July 16. Isabel Rekow/PSU Vanguard. Justin Grinnell and Isabel Rekow/Portland State Vanguard

Candace Avalos, coordinator of student government at Portland State, who recently ran for a seat on Portland City Council, also spoke at the vigil. “We’re here to talk about our right to speak our minds, to be on our own streets and not be brutalized by any police when we’re out here talking about police brutality,” Avalos said.

Around 9:30 p.m., about an hour after Hardesty gave her closing statement, federal law enforcement tossed tear gas and flashbangs into the crowd, as protesters moved chain link fencing that surrounded Chapman Square into the street. Some protesters temporarily dispersed, marching toward 10th Avenue and Glisan, where they believe Mayor Ted Wheeler lives. However, protesters eventually returned to the Justice Center.

In an attempt to bar law enforcement from entering the streets again, protesters moved fences in front of entrances to the Justice Center, Federal Courthouse and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development building. Law enforcement said over loud speakers that tampering with fences was criminal activity and advised protesters to leave the area.

In the early morning, law enforcement continued to toss tear gas out small openings in the Federal Courthouse and Justice Center to disperse the crowd as protesters launched fireworks into the air and in the direction of the Justice Center.

According to Willamette Week, state lawmakers passed a bill banning use of tear gas by police during protests, except during “circumstances constituting a riot.”

“I will not agree that there is nothing we can do when we are being attacked by outside forces,” Hardesty said in her closing statement at the vigil. “I will not abide by the rhetoric that the governor has no control, our senators have no control, our house members don’t have any control…If they can’t do anything, I know who can: the people of the City of Portland.”