UPDATE (6:32 p.m. PT) — Gov. Kate Brown is deploying 50 National Guard troops and 100 Oregon State Police to help control protests in Portland.
The National Guard members will not be armed, the governor said, and will only work behind the scenes.
“They will not be on the front lines making arrests or doing crowd control,” Brown said. “You don’t diffuse violence by having soldiers on our streets. Having soldiers on our streets around America is exactly what President Trump wants. … I want to ensure that the public can safely raise their voices in this much-needed call for reform.”
It was the first time the governor addressed the protests and riots that have erupted throughout the state. She used the platform to discuss larger changes she promised to help usher in.
“Years and years of failure to reform police practices, years of failure to hold police officers accountable. Years of failure to bring real reforms to our criminal justice system, which incarcerates black Americans at five times, five times the rate of white Americans,” Brown said. “I count myself as one of the many white politicians whose good intentions haven’t done enough to tackle the scourge of systemic racism.”
Brown promised that as Oregon rebuilds after being shattered from the economic toll of a pandemic, she would focus on racial equity and equality.
“As we work to reopen the economy, and work to build a safer and stronger Oregon, I am committed to putting the needs of our marginalized communities at the forefront of our recovery,” Brown said. “We need action, we need collective action.”
Sen. Lew Frederick, D-Portland, who sat on the podium near Brown, said he plans to introduce legislation focusing on police accountability in the next session. Frederick, who marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., noted it wouldn’t be the first time he proposed measures to address reforming the state’s criminal justice system.
At the press conference, the longtime lawmaker said, “I still wonder if I’m going to die when I see a police car behind me.”
Earlier in the day, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler asked the governor to call in the troops as the city of Portland braces for a fourth night of protests over the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd.
Wheeler said he supported sending National Guard troops to help stem protests, which have largely been peaceful but have seen waves of property destruction and theft at times by smaller groups of people. Businesses have estimated damages reaching into the millions of dollars.
Wheeler was joined by U.S. Attorney Billy Williams at a press conference Monday morning. Asked if deploying National Guard troops could escalate what has already been at times a tense situation with demonstrators, Williams said that was a possibility but he still supported the move.
“At some point, you have to do the right thing,” Williams said. “Is there a risk? I suppose. Yeah, there’s a risk every day in many things that we do and sometimes you just have to accept it, and act in a way where you draw a line in the sand and say you’re going to do everything you can do to support law enforcement.”
The message echoes similar calls from President Trump for states to take a more militarized approach to demonstrators. In a video call with governors, law enforcement leaders and national security officials Monday, Trump called for tougher crackdowns on the nationwide protests.
“Most of you are weak,” Trump said to the governors and local leaders on the call. “You have to arrest people.”
Portland Police Chief Jami Resch, speaking at a 2 a.m. press conference Monday, estimated the protesting crowds hours before at more than 6,000 people.
Wheeler said he had at least three conversations with the Oregon governor asking her to consider mobilizing the National Guard.
In announcing the deployment, Brown said she does not agree with President Trump — or Mayor Wheeler — in the role National Guard troops should play. The governor noted that she rejected Wheeler’s request to deploy troops over the weekend.
She also noted that mayors in other Oregon cities have been able to work with police departments and sheriff’s offices in neighboring communities to help keep protests from spiraling out of control. She said Portland has not been able to do that and urged Wheeler to “rebuild these collaborative law enforcement agreements with neighboring counties and communities.”
The mayor did not join the governor at her afternoon announcement. Instead, she was accompanied by three black elected officials: Sen. Frederick, State Rep. Janelle Bynum and City Commissioner Joann Hardesty.
“We are not entering martial law. We are not going to have armed people on every corner in the city of Portland. We will make sure that the space is there for people to exercise their Constitutional rights,” Hardesty said. “And I want to make sure we don’t forget why people are on the streets in the first place: People took to the street because people have enough of the inequality that African-Americans experience in this country.”
Last August, when the city of Portland was bracing itself for what was expected to be a violent stand-off between far-right groups and anti-fascist demonstrators, Wheeler also called on Brown to have National Guard troops to respond.
The governor decided against deploying the troops at that time, noting that many National Guard troops do not have crowd or riot control training and she feared sending people with a military background would not help defuse the tense situation. That protest ended with little conflict between groups as Portland police managed to divert crowds.
At Monday’s press conference, Wheeler also announced he would be extending a curfew for Portland through Tuesday morning. He said he will not be putting a blanket curfew order in place, and has decided to make that choice on a day-by-day basis.
The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.