PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — After 6 weeks of ongoing protests originally spurred by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the nightly demonstrations at and around the Justice Center in downtown Portland have grown increasingly violent.
PPB Deputy Chief Chris Davis publicly revealed the “overall dynamics of the continuing protests and police response,” the same briefing recently given to Mayor Ted Wheeler, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, US Attorney Billy Williams and Sheriff Mike Reese.
The briefing provided a look into “the operational side of the disturbances,” officials said.
Davis began by describing the level of criminal activity and property damage as unprecedented. He said, to the best of his knowledge, the city has never seen “this intensity of violent, focused criminal activity over this long of a period of time.”
Davis emphasized that his bureau tries not to conflate the protests with criminal activity that has also occurred.
“There’s a very big difference between protests and the kind of mayhem that we’ve seen every night,” Davis said, adding that the Black Lives Matter movement is not violent, but that a small group of “agitators” has been hijacking the message.
There have been more than 100 injuries, both to city employees and members of the public over the last six weeks, Davis said. He showed the room examples of home-made shields, gas masks, and helmets allegedly confiscated from demonstrators. Davis said officers have encountered numerous weapons and projectiles, including frozen water bottles, rocks, paint-filled balloons designed to cover officers’ face shields, and lasers that can cause eye damage. He also claimed officers have found “improvised incendiary devices” stashed outside of the events.
Arresting suspected criminals at the demonstrations is complicated by the group’s strategy, Davis said. For example, protesters often stand with their hands raised between officers and those launching projectiles, which Davis said makes it difficult to arrest the people committing crimes.
“Just because it’s chaotic, doesn’t mean the police can just go down there and do whatever they want,” he said, adding the bureau does not condone conduct by officers that falls short of standards.
The bureau has come under fire for use of CS gas. Davis said PPB does not like to use it, but does so to “deny area access.” He added that officers give multiple warnings and direction to leave the area.
Davis described the current situation as unsustainable, though he offered little insight into next steps for the department.
“This is not just a Portland Police Bureau problem,” he said. “This is a City of Portland, local government, community problem. … This takes all of us in Portland to get together and just send the message that this isn’t acceptable.”
Last week, riots were declared on 4 of 5 nights. Dozens of people have been arrested by Portland police and at least 7 people now face federal charges.
The protests have resulted in at least $285,000 in damage to at least two public buildings and more than $4.8 million to businesses in downtown Portland, according to the documents filed by city and county attorneys for the Portland Police Bureau and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office.
Davis placed the cost to business owners even higher, saying there has been around $23 million in damage and lost business as a result of the demonstrations.
And Portland Police Association President Daryl Turner said the First Amendment rights of the peaceful protesters “have been hijacked by a bunch of thugs, by people who are out here to destroy, to damage, to cause trouble.”
At a press conference Wednesday morning, Turner said he had “no confidence” the Portland City Council will back the police sufficiently in an effort to stop these nightly violent incidents.
He called on the City Council members to individually and collectively condemn the rioting unequivocally.