PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The imposing figures of federal officers were notably absent for the first time in weeks during the 63rd night of protests in downtown Portland on Thursday.
Hundreds of people filled the streets and parks in front of the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse and Multnomah County Justice Center to amplify their calls for racial justice and police reform. But their presence went uncontested by officials as Thursday night melded into the early hours of Friday morning.
Federal officers were expected to begin leaving the city on Thursday, according to announcements made the previous day by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown. Oregon State Police troopers were to take their place in defending the federal courthouse.
While troopers were spotted early Thursday evening in regular uniforms inside the fence surrounding the federal building, they were not seen on the streets as the night grew older.
By about 9 p.m., a group of protesters was marching west on SW Salmon Street and past the federal courthouse building. Portland police tweeted to alert drivers to people blocking traffic on SW 3rd between SW Madison and SW Salmon.
A group known as Moms United for Black Lives gathered around 9:30 p.m. at Salmon Street Springs to hear one of its lead organizers, Demetria Hester, give a speech.
Hester told KOIN 6 News the group had formed after breaking off from the Wall of Moms to better amplify Black voices.
“It’s an amplification period. Like, we wasn’t listened to. So now we’re fixing to amplify this because this a revolution. We’re fixing to make this happen,” Hester said. “We are the people to make it happen, we’re the right people to choose ’cause we’re fighters, we’re not going to stop. We’re for the next generation, the next generation, for everybody. Because Black Lives Matter.”
For the next few hours, the crush of demonstrators — whose numbers included moms and veterans — displayed signs, chanted slogans like “no justice, no peace,” listened to a freestyle rapper and urged fellow protesters to remain peaceful. Shortly after midnight, someone started a small fire inside the fence and several other protesters worked to extinguish it. Some people climbed the fence and others launched a few fireworks but were quickly chastised by demonstrators intent on keeping the peace of the night intact.
Around 1:30 a.m. Portland Police Bureau announced the mass gathering along SW 3rd Ave broke up into many smaller groups and that the groups were disorganized and wandering from SW Madison to SW Yamhill between SW 3rd & 4th. They warned to avoid the area.
The PPB says most people dispersed over the next hour or so without any police interaction.
On Wednesday night federal officers deployed multiple volleys of tear gas and made arrests as several hundred people protested.
Early Wednesday morning Governor Kate Brown said that all Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers will leave downtown and be replaced with OSP beginning Thursday.
“Oregon State Police troopers will be downtown to protect free speech and keep the peace,” Brown said.
However, Acting Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad Wolf said the agents will remain in the city “until we are assured that the Hatfield Federal Courthouse and other federal properties will no longer be attacked…”
The Multnomah County Justice Center began as the main focus when the continuous Portland protests started over two months ago. However, the Hatfield Federal Courthouse right next door has since been a strong flashpoint since federal police officers were sent in to protect it from damage and vandalism weeks ago.