Protesters broke windows, vandalized and lit several small fires inside a first-floor office at Multnomah County’s headquarters in Portland’s inner eastside late Tuesday as protests over racism and inequality stretched into their 82nd continuous night.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office said some individuals set small fires and poured lighter fluid into a first-floor office. Video of the incident posted online showed the fires briefly damaging the floor and office equipment before burning out.
Office on fire now. Crowd chanted, "What did you see? Didn't see shi*!" pic.twitter.com/WCehCrWPgw— Hannah Ray Lambert (@TheHannahRay) August 19, 2020
Portland Police declared a riot around 10:30 p.m. and ordered the crowd to disperse. PPB made two arrests, according to a news release.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said the fire was set in the Office of Community Involvement, a space she described as often working with people marginalized by the political process. She said the lobby was also damaged where the county distributes personal protective equipment to combat COVID-19.
In a statement, Kafoury said she was committed to transformational change, but asked for the community to work together.
“I acknowledge that there is grave injustice in our world and there is a violent and tragic history of oppression in our County,” she said. “Support the critical work we do every day leading the public health response to COVID-19, providing thousands of meals to families in need, answering mental health crisis calls and serving those experiencing domestic violence.”
During a press conference Wednesday, Kafoury said the Multnomah County headquarters is the third county building that’s been damaged during ongoing nightly protests, the other two being the Justice Center and Multnomah County Courthouse. Kafoury said the damage to those county buildings has equaled more than $1.3 million, not including the damage from Tuesday night that is still being assessed.
Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese called the actions by protesters unprovoked and said the criminal behavior was “reprehensible.”
“It is simply violence and serves no legitimate purpose,” he said. “It does nothing to solve the issues our community faces.”
Reese said Wednesday that his office’s investigations unit along with other agency partners are reviewing video and other evidence to identify other suspects.
Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty repeated her call to take over the city’s police bureau from Mayor Ted Wheeler, who also serves as the city’s police commissioner. She called the break-ins and fires at the county building “inexcusable” and said more harm could’ve come to the community if the “millions of pieces PPE” there used to fight COVID-19 had been damaged by the fires set by protesters.
“The past 80+ days have laid bare the inequities and conflict deep in our city and across the country,” she said in a statement. “People are angry and overwhelmed. We have seen too many Black people killed at the hands of police, and the nightly violence carried out by police at protesters challenging police violence only adds more pain and trauma. We are experiencing the tension and pushback that comes with challenging the status quo.”
Newly elected District Attorney Mike Schmidt also condemned the violence. Last week, he introduced a policy that would drop a large portion of the more than 500 protester cases, largely misdemeanors, brought over the course of the recent demonstrations. But Schmidt said he would still prosecute people who carried out acts of violence or clearly unlawful behavior.
“The people working in the Multnomah Building serve a critical mission to the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to adversely impact marginalized communities,” Schmidt said. “Breaking out windows, setting fires and committing assaults will not bring the much-needed reform we need.”