Federal officers have arrested or detained 60 people on or near downtown Portland federal courthouse property since early July in ongoing demonstrations, Assistant U.S. Attorney for Oregon Craig Gabriel said in a call with media Saturday.
During that call, Gabriel and Harry Fones, assistant press secretary for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, spoke on the continuing demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice that have drawn thousands of Portlanders into the streets since Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.
Gabriel said of the 60 people arrested or detained, the U.S. attorney’s office has pending criminal prosecutions against 46 of them. He said law enforcement officials have seen crimes ranging from assault on federal officers to arson and failing to comply with lawful orders.
“The conduct most concerning to us has been the nightly assault on federal officers,” Gabriel said.
Gabriel said his office supports people’s right to assemble in “large and even rowdy protests,” but condemns violence against police officers and justice facilities.
He said federal officers in Portland have been subjected to threats, lasers in their eyes and projectiles including “bricks, metal ball bearings, commercial grade fireworks.”
Gabriel said officers have sustained injuries including “burns, puncture wounds and a broken bone.”
During the call Saturday, Gabriel acknowledged the racism that exists within the criminal justice system — which is a main driver of the protest.
“We know people of color are subject to force by law enforcement at a higher rate than white people are. They’re arrested at a higher rate than white people are, and they’re sentenced to longer prison terms than white people,” Gabriel said. “So we need to have that conversation. We have been engaged in that conversation and we’ll continue to do so.”
He said his office is "committed to de-escalating tensions and fostering a productive conversation about needed changes in law enforcement," though Gabriel did not point to direct, physical de-escalation actions by federal officers, but rather the fence surrounding the downtown Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.
“The fence is the primary way that officers are seeking to de-escalate tension,” Gabriel said. “Before the fence was up, we had some violent agitators come up to the courthouse steps, come up to the front door, rip off the plywood and shatter the glass door.”
He continued: “The fence was put up just to create some space. The fence was put up so that the peaceful protesters could focus on Black Lives Matter and racial justice.”
Gabriel said he could not vouch for tactics used by federal law enforcement officers that have resulted in serious injuries among demonstrators, including Donavan La Bella who was shot in the head with a "less-than-lethal" munition by U.S. Marshals. He pointed to an open investigation by the U.S. DOJ's Office of the Inspector General into the matter.
Fones, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, declined answering any questions during the Saturday call, including a question of why he repeatedly referred to people protesting in Portland Friday night as “violent anarchists” and “rioters,” even though the Portland Police Bureau had not legally declared a riot.