Following a day of unchecked violence between far-right and far-left demonstrators in both downtown and Northeast Portland, the city’s mayor and police commissioner says the hands-off approach worked in mitigating the violence many expected to take place on the anniversary of one of Portland’s most vicious street brawls.
As promised, Portland Police didn’t respond for most of the day. A statement issued Friday said officers wouldn’t intervene in the moment, rather they would monitor violence and property damage in hopes of making arrests afterward.
Nearly 22 hours after fighting broke out between the two sides in the Parkrose community and gunfire was exchanged downtown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler issued a statement Monday afternoon, saying that the city’s approach was a win.
“This time, violence was contained to the groups of people who chose to engage in violence toward each other,” Wheeler said. “The community at large was not harmed and the broader public was protected. Property damage was minimal.”
Requests for comment from Portland’s four city commissioners largely went unanswered Monday. (Commissioner Mingus Mapps agreed to an interview Wednesday.) Commissioners don’t have a city council session scheduled this week, citing a “lack of an agenda.”
The political violence culminated late Sunday afternoon, when gunshots rang through downtown Portland leaving bystanders and journalists to duck behind vehicles. Police arrested 65-year-old Gresham resident Dennis G. Anderson, who is facing charges of unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm. He was released Monday on a $750 bail. Police asked for the public’s assistance in looking for a second gunman who reportedly fired at Anderson.
This is the latest in a saga of political violence to grip the city. While these latest clashes between members of the far-right group the Proud Boys and anti-fascists were relatively small, they were potentially deadly, disruptive and unwelcome.
“This past weekend, we witnessed another attempt by far right extremists to sow bigotry and hatred in our community — this time in Parkrose and near the high school in my district in Northeast Portland,” Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal told OPB in a statement. “The ensuing violence was unnecessary and disruptive to our community, causing much needless pain and fear for the people who live there.”
Law enforcement agencies monitored the day’s events from a joint information center. Oregon State Police said they had a trooper present. Multnomah County Sheriff spokesman Chris Liedle said the office notified the Portland Police Bureau it had deputies staged at the Justice Center downtown to protect the jail.
“In the event of a major emergency, like officer down or mass casualty, our deputies would respond, as we would expect any agency to do so,” Liedle stated in an email.
Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt declined an interview to discuss Sunday’s violence. Portland police also declined to make Chief Chuck Lovell available for an interview.
Sunday’s events came amid what appears to be a rudderless public safety strategy with a limited ability to engage in public order policing after the Portland Police Bureau’s Rapid Response Team abruptly quit in June. In the wake of a diminished police force, some in law enforcement note that criminal gangs, politically violent groups and private security have moved into the void.
The violence that played out in Parkrose on Sunday has drawn scrutiny because of the Proud Boys’ decision to divert their event from the Portland Waterfront to one of the state’s most diverse communities. The skirmish between the two sides interrupted traffic on Northeast 122nd Avenue between Shaver Street and Sandy Boulevard, and even crept onto Parkrose High School property where fighting continued and several cars were damaged.
Political and education leaders in Parkrose expressed frustration Monday that the PPB allowed a Proud Boys rally at the nearby abandoned parking lot to spill over into the street where anti-fascist demonstrators had also gathered for a confrontation.
“At least from the moment the confrontation left the Kmart parking lot, the police should have intervened,” said state Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Democrat who represents a large swath of the Parkrose community. “Gunfire downtown shows us what could well have happened in Parkrose. It’s unacceptable for there just to be hands off by the police, especially when neighborhoods are involved.”
Jayapal said that Multnomah County residents have made it clear when they want police to intervene: in instances of domestic violence, gun violence and when people parachute into their community “espousing hate and violence.” She added, community members deserve to feel safe in their neighborhoods and homes.
“The lack of police presence in Parkrose is concerning to me,” Jayapal said. “Recently I have been reaching out to our local law enforcement about response times to incidents of intimate partner violence, gun violence, and unsafe car racing. I continue to be concerned about how and when local law enforcement responds to our community needs.”
Many neighbors said they had no warning this was coming to their community. According to Annette Stanhope, chair of the Parkrose Neighborhood Association, she received no notification from the city of Portland that there could be violence in her community.
Stanhope said she and neighbors feared how far the fighting would spread into residential areas where many families with children reside.
“How badly would people have to get hurt for police got involved?” Stanhope said. “As far as I know, the fact that didn’t go any further was just luck, but not any act of the police.”
According to Molly Ouche, Parkrose High School principal, the city was slow to communicate with school and district leaders about what took place Sunday.
“I think different decisions could have been made throughout this,” Ouche said. “Acknowledgement is obviously often the first step in healing, and ignoring a situation because maybe mistakes were made, I don’t believe is very productive.”
Ouche questioned why the city and police didn’t change their response if they knew the Proud Boys — a far right and frequently violent group — were diverting the event to one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city.
She also said the lack of response perpetuates a deep-seated sentiment among residents of the area that neighborhoods like Parkrose don’t see as many investments in services or policing.
“It does send that message — where does Parkrose fit into the city of Portland?” Ouche said. “We are a part of it, but it didn’t seem like that yesterday.”
Parkrose School District Superintendent Michael Lopes Serrao said the same question crossed his mind, and he found himself wondering if the police would have stuck to their hands-off strategy if the Proud Boys had shown up in Eastmoreland, a neighborhood where streets are lined with large homes and old trees.
He said he’s worried about what kind of impact the scenes of violence will have on his students.
“This is where we live. This is where we gather,” he said. “Our kids are watching this happen right in their backyard. And I do think that it sends a message to them that we don’t care as much if this happens in this part of the city.”
At a meeting of the Parkrose School Board Monday evening, Lopes Serrao read a statement he’d written following Sunday’s events. In it, the superintendent explained the heartbreak he shared with other community members over seeing people from outside the community come there and engage in “senseless violence” on school property.
“Once again we must ask our kids and families to be Parkrose strong. This is what’s so heartbreaking,” Lopes Serrao said. “Our community has endured so much, and these polarized groups come into our neighborhood, break the law, damage property, committed ignorant acts of violence, and we are left to pick up their literal trash as they return to their own neighborhoods. These groups offer an abysmal example of what democracy is supposed to look like.”
Members of the school board agreed to sign onto the letter Lopes Serrao drafted Monday and the district plans to gather other signatures of local leaders before sending it to city expressing their concern over how Sunday’s events were handled.
Oregon House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, a Democrat, represents an area of the city that encompasses much of the Parkrose community.
Smith Warner told OPB Monday that she was dismayed to see militant extremist groups — some of which were involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol — terrorize her “vibrant and diverse” district.
“To those who partook in violent acts: You are not welcome here,” Smith Warner said in a statement. “I look forward to working with local, state, and even national leaders. Together, we must hold those involved in violent, anti-democratic hate groups accountable. Our democracy, our safety, and our future depend on it.”