A day after hundreds of opposing demonstrators clashed here, residents and business owners cleaning up the damage Monday criticized the city for not warning them of the potential for violence and police for not intervening in the mayhem.
Far-right groups, including the Proud Boys, gathered Sunday for what was billed as a “Summer of Love” rally to commemorate the anniversary of a violent clash between supporters of President Donald Trump and anti-fascist demonstrators in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing.
Sunday’s rally eventually deteriorated into a replay of last year’s event.
In recent days, city officials, including Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, had pleaded for peace, urging people to stay home and “choose love” instead of hate. The Portland Police Bureau announced it had placed every available officer on call — even as the police chief said the department would not get in the middle of the opposing groups.
“You should not expect to see police officers standing in the middle of the crowd trying to keep people apart,” Chief Chuck Lovell told reporters Friday. “People should keep themselves apart and avoid physical confrontation.”
On Monday, Sgt. Kevin Allen, a spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau, defended the department’s response, pointing to Lovell’s statement that officers would not be deployed to stand between clashing groups.
But residents questioned that strategy, as they cleaned up an area of East Portland where hundreds of demonstrators clashed in what witnesses described as a violent brawl with no police in sight.
Wheeler, who is facing a potential recall effort, issued a lengthy statement Monday defending the city’s response and rejecting claims the police had been absent. “Officers were within minutes of both locations, ready to take action immediately if the situation worsened and life safety was jeopardized,” the statement said.
Things started peacefully. The far-right groups had initially planned to gather at a park near downtown Portland, not far from where far-left groups were scheduled to gather in protest. But the right-wing rally was moved last minute to the parking lot of an abandoned Kmart in the Parkrose neighborhood on the city’s east side.
“They weren’t aggressive,” said Wojak Diaz, 21, a Parkrose resident who stumbled on the rally after getting off work. “They were talking about gun rights and stuff and about how the government was screwing us up.”
But the two sides eventually clashed, with far-left activists arriving to confront the far-right groups. Both sides took aim at one another with fists, chemical agents and weapons including paintballs and baseball bats.
Far-right demonstrators toppled a van that had tried to drive into the parking lot and smashed its windows.
A short time later, a man allegedly fired a gun at far-left protesters at a demonstration downtown. Portland police said they arrested Dennis Anderson, 65, of Gresham, Oregon — the only arrest of the day, though a police spokesman said the department was continuing to investigate other crimes.
No deaths were reported. Last year a far-right demonstrator was shot and killed during that protest. The suspect, an anti-fascist protester, was later shot and killed by police. The events sparked months of protests and the anniversary rally had led some to fear fresh violence.
In East Portland on Monday, a mostly working-class neighborhood, residents and employees of businesses damaged in the melee were out cleaning up. The toppled van, its windows gone and interior looted, remained on its side in the old Kmart parking lot. Nearby, parking lots and buildings were stained with paintball splatter, while canisters from smoke bombs and other agents littered the ground.
At the Chevron next door, gas station attendant Cody Anderson said the business received no heads up from the police or from anyone at the city or county level that an event would be held next door — or that it could turn violent.
Anderson was off but received a text to employees that they would be shutting down as more protesters moved into the lot. “The workers all rushed inside and called the boss,” he said. “And that’s when they closed it down. I watched it all unfold on Reddit.”
Several residents questioned why they weren’t alerted by police or city leaders that the rally had been moved — especially one that could turn violent. They wondered why there were no police present and why the rally, which had drawn extensive social media attention, did not merit a stronger response by government officials.
Last year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, issued a state of emergency ahead of similar competing rallies. Her office did not respond to a request for comment on why she did not do so this time.
Allen, the police spokesman, said once the far-right protest’s location had changed, the department posted a message on Twitter and tried to reach neighborhood leaders.
“There was not a lot of notice about the change so unfortunately not everyone likely got the notice in time,” Allen said.
The department also reiterated that investigations are ongoing and arrests could still be made. “Just because arrests are not made at the scene, when tensions are high, does not mean that people are not being charged with crimes later,” he said.
Sunday’s events renewed calls by residents and others for the city to come up with a more cohesive approach to dealing with political violence, especially far-right protests that tend to turn violent.
“The idea that Portland, or any city, can single-handedly defeat white nationalism is a fallacy,” said Eric Ward, executive director of the Western States Center, a pro-democracy group. “This incident needs to be a wake-up call for elected leaders at every level — from city council members outside of Portland to the federal government. This is a national problem that demands national resources. Anti-democratic violence is a threat that strikes at the heart of who we are as a country. It’s time to act like it.”
Wheeler argued that the city’s actions had “mitigated confrontation” between the opposing sides. “In the past, these same groups have clashed with extremely violent and destructive results,” he said. “This time, violence was contained to the groups of people who chose to engage in violence toward each other. The community at large was not harmed and the broader public was protected. Property damage was minimal.”
In East Portland, Michael Hales power-washed his friend’s coffee stand, the Brewed Life Coffee Company, which had been by hit by paint balls and smoke bombs. Hales said he was not surprised that police didn’t show up on Sunday afternoon. “It all happened so quickly,” he said.
Hales, who said he has family members who are police officers, believes the Portland department is underfunded and understaffed and that was part of the reason police were absent.
But he agreed with other residents that police likely would have shown up in a more affluent neighborhood or in downtown. “But that’s where this stuff usually happens, not here,” he said.