Security fence comes down around federal courthouse in Portland

By Sergio Olmos (OPB)
March 9, 2021 7:21 p.m.

The security fence around the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in downtown Portland is coming down this week. The fence was originally built in response to protests over racial injustice last summer.

In place for eight months and costing more than $200,000, the fence’s disassembly marks a symbolic end to the militarized response by law enforcement during one of the longest sustained protests in Portland’s history. Through the spring and summer, racial justice demonstrators gathered for more 100 consecutive nights, prompting the Trump administration to send unmarked federal agents in military fatigues to patrol city streets.

A man carries a segment of fencing towards a pile of stacked metal fence segments, which lean against a concrete wall covered in graffiti.

A protester stacks pieces of fence in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse on July 18, 2020. The federal police presence has galvanized protesters, bringing out a larger group than on recent nights.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB


News of the federal tactics, first reported by OPB, prompted backlash nationwide. In response, the federal government increasingly deployed officers on city streets who were heavily armed, and would frequently use tear gas or other less lethal munitions to drive crowds away from the security fence around the courthouse.

In a July deal struck by Gov. Kate Brown to withdraw federal agents, Oregon State Police troopers took responsibility for security around the courthouse, and federal officers gradually reduced their presence. Protests targeting the courthouse became increasingly infrequent since that deal.

On Tuesday, the Federal Protective Service confirmed it sees no reason to keep the fence up.

“We’re working with our partners and the community to return to a sense of normalcy.” said Robert Spurling, communications director for the Federal Protective Service. Spurling said the removal will take a couple of days.

“The courthouse will look just like it looked before.” he said.

Federal officials said there were an estimated $2.3 million in damage to federal buildings in Oregon during this summer’s protests, including $1.6 million in damage to the downtown courthouse.