The 123rd night of protests for racial justice in Portland ended minutes after it started, as police swiftly arrested almost all of the demonstrators outside the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct. That prompted a condemnation Sunday morning from the Oregon Justice Resource Center, a civil rights-focused legal group, which said in a statement that the arrests effectively chilled free speech and fit into a pattern that could put the city on an authoritarian path.
Just after 10 p.m. Saturday, approximately 40 protesters stood on the driveway outside the North Precinct building, chanting peacefully. Police ordered protesters to move onto the sidewalk, though the people gathered ignored the order in an act of civil disobedience.
Minutes later, the police Rapid Response Team — a group of officers who wear riot gear and work at protests — encircled protesters and made a wave of arrests.
According to a police press release, 26 people were arrested and booked at the Multnomah County Detention Center.
Portland police Sgt. Kevin Allen wrote in a statement that the “the crowd’s posture, including their armored attire" suggested to police that protesters planned to have another event that could lead to “arson, riots, and assaults on officers.”
Portland protest day 123— Sergio Olmos (@MrOlmos) October 11, 2020
Police arrest almost everyone. No unlawful assembly declared. pic.twitter.com/K28T5AysGS
Police arrested most of the people standing in the street, ending the demonstration.
“Intentionally blocking vehicular traffic is a crime, and we notified everyone there that they were subject to arrest,” Allen said in a statement. He added the arrests outside the North Precinct were “targeted” at people who were committing crimes, though no crimes beyond standing in the street were observed.
“Accounts from the protest last night affirm the dangers posed to local democracy and civic engagement by a law enforcement agency without meaningful civilian oversight," Bobbin Singh, executive director of the Oregon Justice Resource Center, said in a statement Sunday.
“If we do not immediately rein this in and suspend or terminate every law enforcement officer who has engaged in misconduct or violence over these past months, then we are continuing to put ourselves on a dangerous path towards authoritarian practices resulting in continued, profound trauma to the community who are standing up for racial justice and against police brutality,” Singh continued. “Local leaders must find the political will to hold PPB and other law enforcement agencies accountable. Mayor Wheeler must, at a minimum, step aside as police commissioner and allow Commissioner Hardesty to take over; he is no longer credible in this position.”
Most of the 26 protesters arrested were charged with interfering with a peace officer and disorderly conduct in the second degree. One person was also charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt’s office has dropped most charges against demonstrators for low-level offenses related to protest, instead focusing prosecutions on property damage or harm to people.
It remains unclear what prompted Portland officers to intervene in the demonstration so quickly, though Allen noted that after many nights of protests in the city “tonight we had resources in place to make arrests.”