Unrest grows in Portland after federal troops detain protestors. Local officials urge feds to leave

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Protesters removed fencing around the front entrance of the federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., and faced off with officers who launched tear gas and other crowd control weapons. July 20, 2020. Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA.

Protests in Portland, Oregon, began in May after the police killing of George Floyd. Those protests escalated last week after the Department of Homeland Security sent in federal officers.

Speaking with KATU, Oregon Governor Kate Brown criticized the presence of federal troops: “The Trump administration is here because they want to score political points with their base. They’re absolutely not interested in problem solving. And if they were, they’d be interested in having a dialogue and de-escalating the situation. Unfortunately having Trump troops here has done the exact opposite.” 

Federal officers have been detaining protestors, putting them into vans without identifying what branch of law enforcement they were from. That may have stopped after national attention last week. 

But federal agents are still in the city, and it appears that protests are growing. 

Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian reporter who covers law enforcement, has looked into the coordination between these federal agents and local law enforcement. 

“There's been a federal liaison officer that's been in the Portland Police Incident Command Center for about the last two weeks. But the mayor here this past weekend ordered that federal officers no longer be in that command center, and that there be no coordination between Portland police and federal officers. … They [Portland police] have been explicitly directed not to coordinate actions against protesters,” Bernstein says.

She says in the last 63 nights, activists have held peaceful protests for Black Lives Matter. Then they turned their focus to Portland police who used tear gas and other munitions against crowds. Last week, the focus shifted again toward federal officers who were outside the federal courthouse in downtown. 

“Unlike Portland police who have been restricted by court orders on the use of tear gas and less lethal munitions, federal officers aren't facing those same restrictions. … Many would argue [they] are using more heavy handed uses of force. There was a shooting of a less lethal munition into the head of a protester who was standing right across the courthouse a weekend,” she says. 

The man underwent surgery for a skull fracture. “He was … holding a music speaker over his head when he was struck and went down. … In the last couple of days, the energy of the crowd has focused on the federal officers and demands to get them out of the city.”

Now Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has filed a federal suit against the U.S. government, seeking a temporary restraining order that would limit the officers’ use of force in Portland. 

“There were reports that federal officers were picking up people on the street and taking them in unmarked vans back to the federal courthouse for questioning. And the lawsuit particularly is asking a judge to restrict that practice, arguing that it's unconstitutional,” says Bernstein. 

She adds that the mayor is arguing for federal officers to leave Portland, while the feds are saying they were sent in because city officials couldn’t clamp down on some violence that came out of the protests.

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Nihar Patel