Politics

Portland leaders promise less tear gas as Oregon State Police arrive

By Rebecca Ellis (OPB)
Portland, Ore. July 30, 2020 5:12 p.m. Updated: July 30, 2020 6:03 p.m.

The mayor said city and state police could only use gas when "there is a risk of serious injury or death.”

Roughly 100 Oregon State Police will be deployed Thursday evening as part of a deal between Gov. Kate Brown and the White House to get federal law enforcement out of Portland.

The federal officers had dramatically escalated tensions downtown at the nightly racial justice protests with aggressive tactics that included blanketing crowds with rounds of tear gas and firing less-lethal munitions at the heads of protesters and neutral observers. They were responding to a small subset of protesters who would hurl fireworks, water bottles, and other objects at the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse, federal property officers had been sent to Portland to guard.

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So what should protesters expect Thursday as the federal presence is supposed to wind down and the presence of state police is surging?

According to city leaders, a lot less tear gas, for one.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who oversees the city’s police, said he met with the key players Tuesday: the governor, Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, Police Chief Chuck Lovell, and Oregon State Police Supt. Travis Hampton. Wheeler said all agreed that city and state police could only use CS gas, the form of tear gas used by local police, in “circumstances where there is a risk of serious injury or death.”

Wheeler has refrained from issuing a full ban on the gas, but had issued a similar directive to the bureau restricting their use of the chemical. He noted that city police had only used the gas twice in July.

Federal officers have used the gas nearly every night in recent weeks as they stood guard at the courthouse. Under the new deal, Oregon State Police will now be charged with protecting the building.

Hardesty said Thursday she expects this to be “a weekend of celebration” with the federal officers, which she referred to as “the boogeyman,” exiting, and the use of tear gas restrained.

“The only reason to use tear gas when the federal government has left will be to save life - period,” she said. “There is no tear gas for crowd control, there is no tear gas because a water bottle got thrown at you and your feelings got hurt. That will be the only reason that anybody will use tear gas: save someone’s life.”

Hardesty said her conversation with Hampton, the state police leader, convinced her that the state police had higher standards when it came to use of the gas than local police. She said she hoped the Portland police “will learn a thing or two about deescalation” from the state agency.

“They say if they use tear gas it’s because they have received permission at the highest level of their organization,” she said. “And they will be a model, and they will be in the lead. I hope Portland police will learn how to deescalate based on the example that will be set on the Oregon State Police.”

Wheeler also apologized on Thursday for the amount of tear gas used on protesters by Portland police during the early days of protests and to those who were subjected to the long-range acoustical device, known as LRAD.

“I apologize to those non-violent demonstrators,” he said. “It should never have happened. I talk personal responsibility for it, and I’m sorry.”

Portland police began clear Lownsdale Square and Chapman Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on the morning of Thursday, July 30, 2020. Officials said the effort is part of a deal with the Trump administration to remove federal officers from the city's downtown core amid ongoing nightly protests over systemic racism and police brutality.

Portland police began clear Lownsdale Square and Chapman Square in downtown Portland, Ore., on the morning of Thursday, July 30, 2020. Officials said the effort is part of a deal with the Trump administration to remove federal officers from the city's downtown core amid ongoing nightly protests over systemic racism and police brutality.

Rebecca Ellis / OPB

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With federal officers leaving, protesters can also expect more interactions between local law enforcement agencies on the ground downtown.

Since federal law enforcement arrived in Portland, protesters along with some city leaders have condemned the communication they saw taking place between the federal officers and local police. Last week, the council banned the Portland police from providing or requesting support from federal agencies. This means the two forces could potentially be on the same city block but not allowed to talk.

Not so for Portland and Oregon agencies.Wheeler called the coordination and communication between state and local police “rock solid,” noting there is “long-standing communication” and “similar training.”

On Thursday, Lovell criticized the city council’s resolution to not work with federal officers, saying it placed his officers in danger.

“We’re trying to manage some fluid, rapidly changing sometimes violent situations on a very rapid basis,” the chief said. “Right next to us, we have a team of folks who are trying to do the same thing.”

“We can’t communicate with one another to know what’s about to happen. Are they going to come out and push a crowd? Are they going to deploy munitions, right when I’m sending my people out into an area?.”

Like many other local, state and federal officials, Lovell said he didn’t know exactly how protesters and the community would respond to the deal Brown and federal officials announced Wednesday.

“I’m hopeful that the community members see this as a victory in many ways,” Lovell said. “I’m hoping on many levels people are happy with this development.”

Related: How Kate Brown and Mike Pence reached a deal to remove federal officers in Portland

Protesters will also be asked not to crowd into Lownsdale and Chapman Squares in downtown Portland.

The parks, adjacent to the Justice Center and the Mark O. Hatfield Federal Courthouse, have served as an unofficial headquarters for the nightly demonstrations against racism and police violence that have continued in Portland for more than 60 days. Early Thursday morning, Wheeler ordered the parks clear, which he said was part of the deal to get “federal officers to leave our community.”

Officials with the Portland Police, the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and Portland Parks & Recreation were spotted at the park Thursday morning, clearing the area of grills, camping chairs and bags of trash. City workers began removing the benches from the park and power-washing the public bathroom.

Signs were placed on tree trunks saying the park was temporarily closed. The sidewalk was cordoned off with police tape.

Many people have been living in campsites within the park since protests began. Orion Crabb, 37, said he’d been living in the park since the end of May. He said everyone living in the area was told to disperse around 6:30 a.m.. He woke up to the sound of a Portland Police loudspeaker:

“‘Hey, you got 10 minutes, clear these park blocks.’ It was Portland Police, the feds I guess are gone... They wanted to establish their authority, or something,” he said. “They kicked all of us out.”

Conrad Wilson contributed reporting.

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