After criticism from the community and questions from city commissioners about its inaction during political clashes on Aug. 22, Portland Police Bureau leadership say they are investigating more than a dozen people for crimes committed during the day’s violence between groups on the far right and far left.
The bureau circulated pictures Wednesday of six people detectives are trying to identify. Three of the photos are of people dressed in all black clothing typical of anti-fascist counter-demonstrators. The other three are dressed in body armor, wearing American flags or the Proud Boys’ hallmark black and yellow colors.
“In addition to the unidentified individuals, detectives have already identified over a half-dozen individuals involved in violent behavior and possible assault crimes and those investigations are ongoing,” according to a bureau press release.
The Proud Boys rally was held in an abandoned Kmart parking lot in Northeast Portland’s Parkrose neighborhood, one of the state’s most diverse areas. After speeches threatening violence against transgender women and calling detained Jan. 6 insurrectionists “political prisoners,” counterprotesters on the left showed up and an hourlong, violent clash ensued. It spilled into the street and spanned multiple blocks. At one point, the brawl landed in a nearby high school parking lot, where an anti-fascist demonstrator was penned inside a truck and beaten.
The follow-up investigations were foreshadowed by police Chief Chuck Lovell in the week before the rallies. He and Mayor Ted Wheeler preemptively announced police would not intervene to prevent the two sides from clashing but would investigate any crimes committed and make arrests in the days after
The rally was held on Aug. 22 to mark the one year anniversary of a similarly violent brawl in downtown Portland. Police were also absent during that rally, though the decision not to intervene last year appeared to have been less thought out. Bureau leaders said then that there were not enough officers on duty to respond safely to those battles. This year, they canceled days off and had all available officers on duty.
In the days before the violence, the mayor implored people to “choose love,” a message that went largely unheeded.
The weekend ended when a man uttered racist slurs at two people downtown, pulled a gun and exchanged several rounds of gunfire with two armed anti-fascists. Dennis Anderson, a 65-year-old man from Gresham, was arrested and charged with unlawful use of a weapon and unlawful possession of a firearm.
Despite the downtown firefight, two destroyed vehicles, multiple beatings — including an attack on a journalist — the forced closure of several businesses, and panicked 911 calls from a gas station employee worried explosives being set off near the pumps would set their station on fire, the mayor declared the day a victory.
“This time, violence was contained to the groups of people who chose to engage in violence toward each other,” Wheeler said the following day. “The community at large was not harmed, and the broader public was protected. Property damage was minimal.”
Although no city leaders spoke out publicly prior to the rally, emails and text messages obtained by OPB suggest the strategy of nonintervention was already raising alarm at Portland City Hall.
On Aug. 7 and 8, police were similarly uninvolved as political extremists squared off throughout downtown. The violence that weekend ended when Mark Lee, one of the far-right demonstrators, strode through several blocks of downtown unchallenged and armed with what appeared to be a rifle. Lee wasn’t arrested at the time but was eventually charged with menacing and disorderly conduct.
Commissioner Carmen Rubio’s policy director, Ricardo Lujan-Valerio, sent a text message the following morning to mayoral advisor and former mayor Sam Adams asking why the police did not intervene.
Adams said he would know more later in the day.
In emails sent to Lovell and Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis, Wheeler’s chief of staff, Bobby Lee, and Rubio’s chief of staff, Adriana Miranda, both expressed unease over police inaction.
“I am getting very concerned that there are growing number of similar complaints of us not responding to similar calls,” Lee wrote. “Can we get a quick memo explaining the incident?”
According to Rubio’s spokesperson, Lovell has still not sent that memo.