Calm re­turns to Port­land as fed­eral agents with­draw

Lo­cal, state agen­cies take over se­cu­rity, but some U.S. of­fi­cers stay close by

The Washington Post - - POLITICS & THE NATION - BY ADAM TAY­LOR, NICK MIROFF AND DAVID A. FAHRENTHOL­D adam.tay­lor@wash­post.com nick.miroff@wash­post.com david.fahrenthol­d@wash­post.com

This city’s bat­tle-scarred down­town was calm much of Fri­day af­ter fed­eral agents with­drew from the streets where they had faced off with pro­test­ers for days, though dozens re­mained sta­tioned down­town to re­spond to any fur­ther vi­o­lence.

The agents, who had been posted at a fed­eral court­house that pro­test­ers had targeted with graf­fiti and fire, moved to other down­town lo­ca­tions, held in re­serve un­der a deal be­tween Ore­gon Gov. Kate Brown (D) and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Amid crit­i­cism of the fed­eral of­fi­cers’ tac­tics, lo­cal and state po­lice who took their place at the court­house were far less ag­gres­sive — largely stay­ing out of sight Thurs­day night, mak­ing no ar­rests and fir­ing no tear gas.

In mo­ments rem­i­nis­cent of the once-nightly clashes, a few pro­test­ers threw rocks or fire­works at the empty space where fed­eral agents had stood. But the crowds were largely peace­ful Thurs­day night into Fri­day, lis­ten­ing to speeches about po­lice bru­tal­ity and racism and chat­ting on the grass.

“Fed­eral troops left down­town. Lo­cal of­fi­cials pro­tected free speech,” Brown wrote on Twit­ter. “And Ore­go­ni­ans spoke out for Black Lives Mat­ter, racial jus­tice, and po­lice ac­count­abil­ity through peace­ful, non-vi­o­lent protest.”

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity is keep­ing more than 130 fed­eral agents sta­tioned near the court­house as a “quick re­ac­tion force,” in case protests turn vi­o­lent again, ac­cord­ing to an in­ter­nal DHS doc­u­ment re­viewed by The Washington Post.

A se­nior Home­land Se­cu­rity of­fi­cial said the depart­ment was pleased with the first night af­ter agents’ with­drawal but would wait un­til the week­end, at least, be­fore leav­ing Port­land al­to­gether.

Among pro­test­ers, many feared that the peace was only tem­po­rary, not­ing that their con­cerns about racism and po­lice bru­tal­ity in the city pre­dated the ar­rival of the fed­eral agents.

But some felt a sense of ac­com­plish­ment and said they hope the calm will last.

“Trump’s key­stone cops ab­so­lutely lost. They re­treated,” said Peter Buck, a 74-year-old lawyer who had been trav­el­ing to Port­land from Olympia for vig­ils and marches, us­ing a leaf blower to send tear gas away from pro­test­ers.

The protests at Port­land’s court­house be­gan weeks ago, dur­ing the na­tional move­ment that fol­lowed the death of Ge­orge Floyd in po­lice cus­tody in Min­neapo­lis. The Port­land protests gained na­tional at­ten­tion be­cause of the ag­gres­sive tac­tics used by cam­ou­flage-clad fed­eral agents, who were seen on video grab­bing pro­test­ers off the street and driv­ing them away in un­marked vans.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion said th­ese tac­tics were nec­es­sary to stop peo­ple who had van­dal­ized the fed­eral court­house.

But the protests be­came big­ger and more vi­o­lent with fed­eral agents’ pres­ence. For days, the fence around the court­house was the scene of nightly street bat­tles, as some pro­test­ers threw rocks, fire­works and cans, and of­fi­cers re­sponded with rub­ber bul­lets, tear gas and charges into the crowd.

Un­der the terms of the deal struck by Brown and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Port­land po­lice and Ore­gon state troop­ers took over most se­cu­rity du­ties near the court­house. But the “quick re­ac­tion force” is in­tended to rush in if the state po­lice need help, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity doc­u­ment.

The doc­u­ment says there are still more than 150 Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) per­son­nel — in­clud­ing the 130 mem­bers of the quick-re­ac­tion force — in the Port­land area. Among them are more than 110 Bor­der Pa­trol agents, more than 30 mem­bers of Spe­cial Re­sponse Teams and more than a half-dozen air sup­port spe­cial­ists. The fig­ures do not in­clude ad­di­tional per­son­nel from the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice, part of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, and the Fed­eral Pro­tec­tive Ser­vice, an­other arm of DHS.

The CBP’S quick-re­ac­tion force is di­vided be­tween two lo­ca­tions, both within 20 min­utes of the court­house. Nearly 100 CBP agents are sta­tioned at one of the hold­ing sites, while 35 more are at an­other site, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

The quick-re­ac­tion force’s in­struc­tions are to re­spond only to “ma­jor” felonies, in­clud­ing at­tempts to breach court­house se­cu­rity or block the ex­its. Ore­gon State Po­lice have as­signed 80 of­fi­cers to the court­house protests, and state au­thor­i­ties will have pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity for deal­ing with any in­ci­dents, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

On Thurs­day night, the state po­lice of­fi­cers re­mained con­fined to the court­house, oc­ca­sion­ally look­ing out at the protests.

Some demon­stra­tors said that with­out a no­table po­lice pres­ence, the crowd had a dif­fer­ent at­mos­phere. “It’s much more lowkey and a bit more sub­dued,” said Shan­non Echavar­ria, a 53-yearold pet-care pro­fes­sional, on Thurs­day evening. “Nor­mally by this time, peo­ple would be bang­ing on that fence. There’d be fire­works. They’d be pour­ing de­bris over.”

The shift in tone was “100 per­cent be­cause the feds are leav­ing,” Echavar­ria said.

But the change seemed to take some pro­test­ers by sur­prise. Many had ar­rived wear­ing hel­mets and gas masks, but found them­selves sit­ting on the grass in the park near the court­house.

“Looks like there won’t be much of a bat­tle tonight,” one man said at mid­night to a group of shield-wield­ing pro­test­ers. Min­utes later, a small fire was started in­side the cor­doned-off area out­side the court­house, though pro­test­ers quickly put it out be­fore it could spread.

Out­side the fed­eral court­house Fri­day af­ter­noon, a hand­ful of state po­lice of­fi­cers, wear­ing their trade­mark cam­paign-style hats, stood be­hind a metal fence, ob­serv­ing the scene. A marked car for the Fed­eral Pro­tec­tive Ser­vice sat be­hind the build­ing.

In the ad­ja­cent Lowns­dale Square, which had been cleared by city po­lice early Thurs­day morn­ing, sev­eral tents had al­ready been in­stalled again. The park’s cen­tral statue, a mon­u­ment to Ore­go­ni­ans who died dur­ing the 1898 Span­ish-amer­i­can War, scrubbed clean by city work­ers Thurs­day, was again graf­fi­tied.

Some pro­test­ers sug­gested that a safer en­vi­ron­ment could draw larger crowds, in­clud­ing fam­i­lies and teenagers, down­town.

Adia Jones, a 17-year-old stu­dent who has been help­ing or­ga­nize a pop­u­lar youth-led event in North­east Port­land called Fri­days4free­dom, said Fri­day that many of her peers had not been able to reg­u­larly at­tend protests down­town be­cause of safety fears.

“A big con­cern on our part is safety,” Jones said, adding that she had been tear-gassed three times when she went to the court­house Wed­nes­day evening.

But Jones and her fel­low or­ga­nizer, 16-year-old As­lan New­son, em­pha­sized that they did not op­pose any­one protest­ing how­ever they wanted.

“We are for full abo­li­tion of po­lice. Un­til we see that, we are not go­ing to stop,” said Jones. “Once those de­mands are met, we will eval­u­ate.”

Some demon­stra­tors re­main wary of the state and lo­cal po­lice as well, re­call­ing that city po­lice had used tear gas to dis­pel pro­test­ers long be­fore fed­eral of­fi­cers ar­rived. Oth­ers noted that Trump on Thurs­day warned that he could call in the Na­tional Guard.

But most pro­test­ers wel­comed the calm and be­lieved that Port­land’s protests would keep their mo­men­tum.

“That will draw fam­i­lies back to the protests. Ul­ti­mately, while we wanted the feds out, this was re­ally about Black Lives Mat­ter,” Echavar­ria said.

As the crowd lin­gered to­ward the end of the night, a freestylin­g rap­per named No Shoes said that the time was right to just fo­cus on hav­ing fun.

“I think this might be the first time we didn’t get gassed,” he told his au­di­ence.

PHO­TOS BY CAITLIN OCHS/REUTERS

ABOVE: Fed­eral law en­force­ment of­fi­cers keep watch at a garage door at the U.S. court­house in Port­land, Ore. Un­der an agree­ment with the gov­er­nor, about 130 fed­eral agents will re­main in the city as a “quick re­ac­tion force,” able to re­turn to the court­house if lo­cal au­thor­i­ties need help. LEFT: The at­mos­phere at Thurs­day night’s protest was more sub­dued as the po­lice pres­ence shrank. “I think this might be the first time we didn’t get gassed,” one at­tendee said.

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