Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency in Portland over the weekend, in a move her office said will allow authorities to better respond to a far-right rally that could draw thousands to the city Saturday.
Under an arrangement Brown laid out Friday, the governor’s emergency declaration will put authority for addressing the rally — along with any counterdemonstrations — into the hands of the Oregon State Police and Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. With this “incident command structure,” the Portland Police Bureau would follow the lead of those agencies.
In a press conference announcing the decision, Brown cited a pattern that has repeatedly played out in the city when far right demonstrators hold rallies to provoke counterprotesters and soon devolve into violent street brawls.
“The First Amendment does not give anyone license to hurt or kill someone because of opposing political views,” Brown said. “And when free expression is fueled by hate and coupled with an intent to incite violence, then I need to do everything I can as governor to ensure the safety of Oregonians."
The event is being organized the far right group the Proud Boys, which regularly engages in violence at protests, and is supposed to take place in North Portland’s Delta Park. A counterdemonstration is planned at nearby Peninsula Park.
State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton said the governor’s decision would lead to a massive influx of state troopers into North Portland starting Saturday morning.
The governor declined to give figures for how many law enforcement officers from various agencies would be coming into the city, but said she was “confident that law enforcement is adequately resourced to tackle the situation.”
The arrangement also frees up police officers to use CS gas, a type of tear gas, if they determine the demonstration has gotten out of hand. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler announced earlier this month that he was prohibiting city police from using the gas, following widespread criticism officers have used it indiscriminately on demonstrators during months of demonstrations for racial justice in the city.
Earlier this week, both the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office and the Oregon State Police had rebuffed the Portland Police Bureau’s request for assistance with crowd control, citing the ban on CS gas. Law enforcement officials, including Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell, have said they believe the gas is the safest option to disperse crowds and warned a ban would lead to more dangerous physical interactions between police and protesters.
With the governor giving control to Oregon State Police, all three law enforcement agencies will have the option of using the gas.
“We will not remove CS gas as a possibility from these events,” Hampton said. “Under this authority, we will make this available to not only state troopers, deputy sheriffs, but also Portland police officers.”
Brown said the arrangement was agreed to in a meeting with Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, Portland City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty and Wheeler.
In a statement, the mayor thanked the agencies for sending help and said the resources would “go a long way” to ensuring law enforcement was ready when the far right and white nationalist groups come to town.
“Having a unified command structure uniting the resources of the state, the county and the city is a timely and appropriate response to the threat we face,” Wheeler said.
The mayor also noted his ban on CS gas "remains unchanged.”
Earlier this week, the city denied a permit for the Proud Boys event, citing coronavirus concerns. Asked by a reporter whether the permit denial would be enforced, Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell said the steps police took hinged on the size of a crowd.
“We don’t know how many people are going to show up, This is not the type of thing people RSVP to,” Lovell said. “So there’s going to be the potential that we get a very, very large crowd. And given our ability to manage that crowd safely, that’ll determine what we do.”
Lawsuit targets Proud Boys
Hours after the governor’s announcement, the Oregon Justice Resource Center announced a $1.25 million lawsuit against three Proud Boys members for alleged assault that took place at rallies this August.
The suit names three members of the far right group: Corey Wyatt, David Willis, and Alan Swinney.
Swinney, a familiar face at far right rallies in Portland, has showed up armed during at least two demonstrations this August and has a reputation for engaging in violence.
“This is a lawsuit about conduct and consequence, and it is about law and order,” reads the suit. “For two consecutive weekends in August 2020 in Portland, Oregon, Defendants, who are not residents of Portland, descended upon its downtown streets, sowing chaos, shooting at passers-by, spraying people with chemical weapons, and lobbing explosive with seeming impunity from local authorities."
“This is their call to account.”
The suit was filed on behalf of four Multnomah County residents: Albert Lee, Melissa Lewis, Amanda Seaver, and Evelyn Bassi. Three allege they were either bear maced or sprayed with pepper balls by the defendants. Bassi said she was badly burned after a member of the group hurled an explosive device in the area where she stood. Photos included in the filing show severe burns on her right side.
Juan Chavez, director of the Civil Rights Project for the Oregon Justice Resource Center, said in a statement he hoped the suit would discourage the flood of Proud Boys into the city, announced just a day before they’re expected to show up.
“They continue to target Portlanders because they regard our city as fertile ground for political violence against people with left-wing political views and antifascists in general,“ Chavez wrote. "This suit is intended to deter defendants from returning to our city to cause more harm and distress.”