PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Federal officers declared an unlawful assembly at Terry Schrunk Plaza following hours of dueling demonstrations between right-wing and left-wing protesters in the downtown area Saturday.
Demonstrations first started outside the Justice Center on SW 3rd Avenue. A rally organized by members of right-wing groups including Proud Boys was met by counter-protesters around 12:15 pm. Several afternoon skirmishes turned violent, with demonstrators hurling rocks and other items at each other and getting into fights.
One protester filmed a woman being punched allegedly by a member of the Proud Boys
Images showed what appeared to be hundreds of people involved, many of them wearing helmets and carrying makeshift shields.
The Justice Center in recent weeks has been the target of left-wing protesters mostly operating at night, when they frequently get into clashes with police.
Right-wing groups had announced a rally near the building Saturday afternoon that quickly drew counter-demonstrators. The building houses a police precinct, police headquarters, a county jail and courtrooms and is next door to a federal courthouse that was targeted for weeks last month by left-wing protesters who clashed with federal agents dispatched to Portland to protect it.
PPB issued a warning about two hours after the demonstrations began, warning that officers were prepared to start using crowd control weapons if the violence did not end.
By the late afternoon, activity in the downtown area appeared to fizzle. The Portland Police Bureau released a statement summarizing the events and also accounted for why a riot was not declared, stating that the declaration was warranted, but the bureau did not have enough resources.
“There have been questions about why the events downtown were not declared a riot and why police did not intervene. Incident commanders have to weigh out the entire situation to determine if police action is likely to make things safer or not. In this case there were hundreds of individuals and many weapons within the groups and an extremely limited amount of police resources actually available to address such a crowd. Additionally, PPB members have been the focus of over 80 days of violent actions directed at the police, which is a major consideration for determining if police resources are necessary to interject between two groups with individuals who appear to be willingly engaging in physical confrontations for short durations.
While the activity in the group met the definition of a riot, PPB did not declare one because there were not adequate police resources available to address such a declaration. PPB had roughly 30 officers available for crowd management and there were several hundred individuals associated with the events downtown.”
Police also said they were aware of social media posts that show a man pointing what appeared to be a firearm at the crowd during Saturday’s protest. The man involved was identified, and police are asking for anyone who was a victim or in-person witness to the incident to contact them.
At the Saturday protest
One member partaking in the rally, Helen Heller, said she was at the protest to support the police and take back the streets of Portland.
A counter-protester, who chose to remain anonymous, said she felt sad because “this other side” doesn’t understand why “Black Lives Matter”
Just after 1 p.m., Zane Sparling of KOIN 6 News partner the Portland Tribune, tweeted a video showing members of the rally firing paintball guns at counter-protesters:
Paintball guns being fired at Portland protest pic.twitter.com/oDMo8c0EeN— Zane Sparling (@PDXzane) August 22, 2020
Controversy even before the protest
Even before the demonstration began it was already denounced by Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.
The demonstration stirred controversy due in part to the man at its center, Alan Swinney, who posted about the event on the social media site Parler on Tuesday.
“100s of patriots will be converging on the Justice center,” Swinney wrote, to “take this country back.”
Swinney is a known associate of Proud Boys, which the Anti-Defamation League said “have carved out a niche for themselves as both a right-wing fight club and a volunteer security force for the GOP. Despite their associations with mainstream politicians, Proud Boys’ actions and statements repeatedly land them in the company of white supremacists and right-wing extremists.”
An article posted Thursday on the Rose City Antifa website said “people in Portland don’t let fascist organizing happen unchallenged and uncritiqued.”
A post on the blogging website Medium condemned the gathering Thursday and urged local law makers, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, Commissioners Hardesty, Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz, to not stay silent on the issue and announce a plan on how they will ensure Portlanders’ safety.
The letter was co-signed by nearly 300 Portland businesses, leaders and protest groups, including Moms United for Black Lives, Portland United Against Hate and others. Many more individuals also co-signed the letter.
Hardesty gave a statement Friday evening condemning the gathering and said she is requesting more information from the Police Commissioner’s Office on protective measures for community members being taken.
“We vehemently denounce any white nationalist organizing and recruiting in our City,” Hardesty said. “Given the attack that happened against Black Lives Matter protesters on August 15th and the pipe bombing at Laurelhurst Park, we have requested information from the Police Commissioner’s office on what measures are being taken to protect our community.”
Some federal buildings were closed in Portland on Friday due to a “threat of violence.” KOIN 6 News learned the threat involved a truck carrying explosives. It wasn’t clear which federal building it allegedly intended to target. The FBI in Portland has not ruled out the credibility of this threat.
KOIN 6 News also learned downtown Portland city workers were told to go home by noon “out of an abundance of caution” and to stay away through the weekend due to planned demonstrations.
‘Patriots’ rally from August 15
On August 15, shots rang out at the rally for ‘patriots’ near a parking garage close to the Justice Center at about 12:30 p.m. The gathering was attended by about 30 demonstrators, some of whom were holding firearms, and some BLM counter-protesters. A short chase ensued.
Other clashes occurred at the event that included mace, paint balls, and an explosion sound.
No one was reported to have been hit with the live bullets.
The man who allegedly fired the shots, Skylor Noel Jernigan, was arrested Wednesday by Portland Police Bureau and faces five charges.
KOIN 6 News photographer Robby Sherman did capture one of the shells and tweeted that the rounds were directed at BLM counter-protesters, according to witnesses.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.