Night 57 of Portland protests brings 'refocus' and new limits on federal response

By Jonathan Levinson (OPB) and Ryan Haas (OPB)
Portland, Ore. July 24, 2020 4:33 a.m.

E.D. Mondainé did not hold back his criticism of ongoing demonstrations in Portland.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on Thursday, the president of Portland's NAACP chapter wrote recent demonstrations had in some ways become a theatrical display of "white privilege dancing vainly on a stage that was originally created to raise up the voices of my oppressed brothers and sisters."


And so Mondainé organized a "Stand on Portland" that opened the city's 57th straight night of demonstrations. Speaking from the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center, the Portland pastor touched on what has become an increasing focus for some protesters: the presence of federal officers on city streets.

"I want you to know something Portland. We are at war," Mondainé said over a loud speaker. "Federal agents have descended upon our streets. Armed in camouflage clothing, and ready to do battle with anyone who stands in the voice of the opposition to oppression."

Federal officers have been in Portland throughout July and have regularly used so-called less lethal weapons on peaceful demonstrators when a small number of people have thrown objects or spray painted federal property.

Though the law enforcement response has been disproportionate and indiscriminate toward crowds, Mondainé admonished protesters who have engaged in property damage or alleged criminal activity. He said those actions do little to achieve justice for Black Americans killed by police.

"The focus has been moved out from where it is supposed to be, and made to be a spectacle — a debacle," he said.


As the NAACP event ended around 9 p.m., increasingly large crowds returned to Portland streets to hear speeches about racial justice.

Kinsey Smyth speaks to a crowd of demonstrators from the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., July 23, 2020.

Kinsey Smyth speaks to a crowd of demonstrators from the steps of the Multnomah County Justice Center in Portland, Ore., July 23, 2020.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

Speakers at the Justice Center led the crowd in chants of "Black lives matter" and in calls for Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler to either take action to end police brutality or to resign. The night before, Wheeler joined the crowd and was tear gassed outside the federal courthouse. He did not return for Thursday night's demonstration.

Speaking to the crowd, Kinsey Smyth said she was proud to be a Black woman at this moment in time. She said the people who had gathered had a chance to "shift the narrative."

"This is as American as it gets," Smyth said. "This is scary. This is uncomfortable. ... Embrace it, let's change it."

Earlier Thursday, a federal judge ruled that officers from the Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies working in Portland could not use force against or arrest journalists and legal observers at protests. Previously, that restriction had only applied to the Portland police.

Around midnight, protesters continued to gather at the reassembled and reinforced fence surrounding the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse. The Federal Protective Service periodically warned people when they began to shake or hit the fence, and around 12:30 a.m. officers began firing pepper balls through the fence and into the crowd.

A little after 1 a.m., officers used tear gas and impact munitions to disperse the crowd after a few protesters breached the fence. Protesters used umbrellas to shield each other from pepper balls while others used leaf blowers to blow the tear gas back towards the court house. Someone played The Imperial March over a loudspeaker.

By 3 a.m., protesters had regathered at the fence and once again breached it, though few entered.