Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw’s message Monday to protesters intent on gathering in the city Aug. 17 to commit violence: “Don’t come. We don’t want you here. I don’t care what side you’re on.’’
The chief pledged that officers won’t hesitate to either disperse the crowd or make arrests if police declare an “End Domestic Terrorism – Better Dead Than Red’’ or “Anti Antifa’’ rally, or any counter protests, unsafe.
“We will be there in mass to ensure that we can react and ensure there are quick and swift consequences,’’ Outlaw said. “There will be both.’’
Outlaw’s message comes as Portland police continue to reach out to other local, state and federal law enforcement to bolster the number of officers on hand that day, and as rhetoric on social media for the expected clashes between far-right and far-left demonstrators ramps up.
It also follows criticism that police failed to step in and take action to stop bloody brawls that broke out during dueling demonstrations on June 29 and during the assault of conservative writer Andy Ngo.
No one has applied for any city permits to use Tom McCall Waterfront Park on Aug. 17, one of the sites advertised as the gathering place for the right-wing “End Domestic Terrorism’’ rally.
The organizer is Joe Biggs, a Florida resident and former Infowars staffer who has threatened on his Facebook page, “We are coming for antifa.’’ Some of his social media accounts have been restricted, but in a July post on his Facebook page, he wrote that he’s spoken with “ex special forces military groups, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys and Titans of Liberty,’’ and that more than a thousand men are planning to descend on Portland on Aug. 17.
Rose City Antifa, in turn, has called on its supporters “to defend Portland against far-Right attack,’’ in an announcement titled, “The Far-Right Plans to Invade Portland on August 17.’’ Rose City Antifa urged supporters to “tell these far-Right and neo-Nazi groups that they are not welcome in Portland, and their search for victims on our streets will not be tolerated.’’
The chief promised that police response will be much different from that seen on June 29. During that day’s demonstrations, video clips of men beaten with batons in the streets surrounding Pioneer Square, and Ngo assaulted and doused with milkshakes drew national attention and went viral.
Outlaw said the police were understaffed on June 29, restricting them from quickly moving in to make arrests.
For Aug. 17, no officers will have a day off. The bureau intends to have a large police presence “to be visible” and “to set the tone right away.”
Authorities also are considering whether to have Oregon National Guard’s rapid response teams, which have trained with the Police Bureau’s crowd control teams in the past, involved, at least on standby. Outlaw said that ultimately will be the governor’s call.
“We’d be remiss in our duties in planning if we didn’t at least consider it, given that we’ve trained with them the last few years,’’ Outlaw said.
Some law enforcement partners and elected officials, though, have expressed serious concern about the optics of calling in the Guard, not wanting anything reminiscent of the May 4, 1970 shootings of unarmed college students at Kent State University by members of the Ohio National Guard during a mass protest against the bombing of Cambodia by the U.S. military.
With more than 100 officer vacancies, the Police Bureau needs back-up from other agencies, the chief said. The bureau can’t rely on sheriff’s offices in Washington and Clackamas counties, which recently pulled out of mutual aid pacts with Portland police.
Police also will arrest demonstrators who haven’t obtained a city permit to march in the streets on Aug. 17 if they are in the street and committing a crime, such as disorderly conduct or failing to obey an officer’s order, the chief said. Police will continue to work to keep dueling demonstrators separated, either through lines of police, fencing or other barriers.
The chief said she’s hopeful that the city’s commissioners and other federal and state partners, as well as Mayor Ted Wheeler, will stand up and decry any potential violence ahead of the anticipated Aug. 17. protests. She urged curious bystanders also not to come just to watch the events unfold.
“If you’re coming to be a lookie-loo to watch, you’re enabling an event,” she said. “These events would not occur if there was no audience.”
During the day, police intend to provide live updates on Twitter, as well as live video updates from police spokespeople.
Outlaw expressed some frustration that the city has to spend taxpayers’ money and use police resources to essentially keep feuding protesters separated.
The City Council last fall voted down an ordinance the chief and mayor supported that would have enabled them to restrict the time, place and manner of protests by groups with a history of violence in the city. The chief recently proposed an anti-masking ordinance for protests and changes to state law that would allow officers to videotape demonstrations in full, but those ideas haven’t received much support in the city.
Outlaw said she believes police play an important role in facilitating people’s free speech rights and keeping the public safe when groups come to the city to demonstrate lawfully and peacefully.
But when groups with a history of violence return to the city continuously and make threats and spout their criminal intentions online, Outlaw said something else needs to be done.
“I feel like we’re hosting, you know, these events,’’ she said.
“When are folks going to say, why do our police have to deal with this in the first place? Why are we spending all this money to plan on keeping these groups separated for hours?’’ Outlaw said. “We’re using taxpayer dollars to keep a fight separated, when the question should be why are they even comfortable enough to come here and fight in the first place. I think that’s a political question that needs to be answered.’’
Jann Carson, interim executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, said Aug. 17 will mark “another test’’ for Portland police. Her organization announced Monday another lawsuit against the city stemming from a 53-year-old woman’s injury on Aug. 4, 2018, resulting from a flash-bang grenade fired into a crowd during clashing demonstrations a year ago.
“We acknowledge that tensions are high in the city,’’ Carson said.
She urged police to use tactics that de-escalate violence and take action that’s “proportional to what has occurred or is occurring.’’
“Law enforcement can address violence if and when it occurs,’’ Carson added. “Law enforcement must respond to isolated incidents of property damage, violence or other lawlessness by arresting the individuals responsible, not by breaking up a protest.’’
— Maxine Bernstein
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