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Portland leaders condemn ongoing violence by ‘anarchists’

The plea comes days after yet another unruly crowd incident led to arrests

smashed windows portland oregon protest

This Friday, March 12, 2021, photo released by Portland Police Bureau shows shmashed windows left behind by people inside the perimeter of a march by a group of about 100 hundred protesters Friday night in Portland, Ore.

Portland Police Department via AP

By Maxine Bernstein

PORTLAND, Ore. — Black community leaders on Monday joined Portland’s mayor, deputy police chief, the sheriff and the state’s acting top federal prosecutor to decry a resurgence of vandalism to businesses and the federal courthouse, calling the targeted unrest at odds with the social justice movement.

They accused anarchists of co-opting the Black Lives Matter movement and causing senseless damage while speaking out in support of the Police Bureau’s renewed use last week of a mass arrest tactic.

“The misguided and miseducated anarchists reject civility and instead intentionally create mayhem through criminally destructive behavior, tearing up our city and this must stop,” said Avel Gordly, a former state state senator, during the video news conference. “You are not helping. You are hurting Black people. We need peacemakers and peacekeepers.”

Former state Sen. Margaret Carter said she stands with people who take to the streets to seek change, “but I don’t stand with you in seeking our city being torn apart.”

“I ask you to cease and desist immediately from your violent acts of destruction in our city,” she said.

[READ: 5 steps of riot prep: How to do crowd control correctly]

Mayor Ted Wheeler, City Attorney Robert Taylor and Deputy Police Chief Chris Davis defended the police decision to “kettle” what they described as an unruly crowd on Friday night in the Pearl District — surrounding and boxing in a group while blocking off all exit points to make arrests.

And Wheeler vowed that police will continue to revise their tactics to address the ongoing vandalism.

“I’m just hearing loudly and clearly from our community for months that they’re sick and tired of this criminal destruction,” he said. “The community at large has already figured out that this has nothing to do with Black Lives Matter or any noble causes. This is just about people getting together to break stuff because they think they can get away with it.”

Some people showing up to the gatherings clearly have violent intent, he said.

“When you come to a quote ‘protest’ and you bring your gun or you bring your slingshot or you bring your ax or your hammer, that doesn’t tell me you’re there for peaceful purposes,” he said. “That tells me that you are there as a bad actor for the purposes of conducting criminal acts.”

Buoyed by recent favorable rulings from two federal judges and a state judge, the Police Bureau used kettling for the first time in several years.

Davis said police employed the controversial tactic peacefully without having to use munitions and it helped curtail further damage to businesses and other properties as people blocked streets and smashed windows in a gathering advertised as a “direct action.”

The circumstances on the ground fit the legal parameters for such mass arrests, said Davis and Taylor, the city attorney.

Davis cited similar “direct actions” promoted by self-described anarchists, including one on Feb. 27, also in the Pearl District, that caused significant damage to businesses.

When a group acts “in a coordinated manner” to engage in criminal conduct, its members can be detained for purposes of a criminal investigation, Taylor said.

“Portland police followed the law,” he said.

Police surrounded about 100 people, took their names and photographs, and arrested 13, after the group had blocked traffic and refused to get out of the street, Davis said. Officers allowed legal observers and journalists to leave, he said.

Of those arrested, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office has so far pursued cases against one adult on interfering with police, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest allegations and one juvenile. The district attorney’s office rejected one other case against a woman accused of carrying a concealed weapon and unlawfully possessing a loaded firearm in a public place, and asked police to provide more documentation.

In the 10 other cases, people were cited and released, and those haven’t yet been referred to the district attorney’s office.

Davis said police moved in after some in the group dragged outdoor furniture from businesses into the street and smashed four to six windows near Northwest 15th Avenue and Overton Street.

“We decided at that point not to wait until there was more widespread destruction to take the appropriate action,” Davis said. “This was not a protest group. This was a group of people who’ve come to believe that they’re entitled to damage other people’s property, threaten community members and assault our police officers.”

Police incident commanders called for detaining the entire group based on reasonable suspicion of disorderly conduct for those walking in the street and criminal mischief for those damaging property, Davis said.

Police also recovered at least one gun, knives and slingshots, which some in the kettled crowd appeared to have discarded, he said. After their release, some people tried to harm police, including one person who threw a full can of beer at an officer, he said.

Oregon’s Acting U.S. Attorney Scott Asphaug decried the window-breaking and graffiti over the weekend at the Mark O. Hatfield United States Courthouse downtown by “the few who hope to hold our city hostage by petty crime and violence.”

Asphaug urged family members of the young men and women who appear dedicated to creating the havoc to “raise your voice to tell them to stop.”

“I work in the building that’s become ground zero for what’s been inaccurately described as protest-related violence,” Asphaug said. “That description is false and plays into the hands of the few agitators whose criminal actions work to hijack the goals of social and racial justice.”

Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese also participated in the news conference. Police Chief Chuck Lovell was out of town for training and didn’t attend the news conference, according to a police spokesman.

Former Trail Blazer Terry Porter said he’s deeply concerned about the city and called the widespread vandalism a disturbing distraction to needed reforms.

“This is not what Black Lives movement is about,” he said. “It does not make me as a Black man any safer.”

Wheeler, who on New Year’s Day made a similar plea to address anarchist violence, said then that he wanted to meet with federal, state and local law enforcement and elected officials to stem anarchist-related violence and develop a restorative justice-type program calling for people convicted of vandalizing property to do community service and meet with the property owners to do repairs.

“Neither of those things have happened at this point,” the mayor conceded, saying he didn’t have enough interest from lawmakers.

He said he has tried to invite people who fall into the anarchist category to meet with him but hasn’t had “any takers.” When he did meet last year with some people invited to a roundtable, he said the conversations weren’t productive because they “basically shoved a megaphone in my face and swore at me for 20 minutes.”

He described the overwhelming number of people committing the vandalism as young, white males.

Wheeler said the city and police have been working more closely now with the Multnomah County district attorney to ensure people are held accountable in a way that wasn’t happening in the past. A representative from the district attorney’s office was in the police incident command center during Friday night’s demonstration.

Though the news release for Monday’s media event referenced white supremacists, the focus of speakers was on anarchist vandalism. Yet when pressed, Wheeler said the city recognizes that white nationalism remains the number one public safety threat in the nation.

“There is no room for violence or criminal destruction, and I don’t give a damn what your politics are, nor should anybody else,” he said.

Wheeler said he believed the kettling tactic was used appropriately, lawfully and successfully by police on Friday night and applauded police for their actions. In certain circumstances, similar to what police faced Friday night, it’s effective, he said.

But he added that a police incident commander makes the decision whether to direct officers to kettle a group.

“It’s my expectation as police commissioner and the mayor, it will be done so legally,” the mayor added.

Recent court rulings dismissed legal challenges to police kettling that occurred during dueling demonstrations in downtown in June 2017.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman in January ruled that officers had authority to hold a group of people on suspicion of disorderly conduct. “Officers are entitled to have reasonable suspicion as to a moderately cohesive group,” regardless of whether the people are ideologically aligned, he ruled. He also found that the mass detention didn’t amount to an arrest.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jolie A. Russo in late December recommended dismissing a separate class-action suit brought by the ACLU of Oregon, finding that the kettling was legal and didn’t rise to an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment violation as alleged.

Though Russo expressed some concern that police made little effort to distinguish between those acting unlawfully and innocent bystanders, she found that police could have believed reasonable suspicion existed to detain the crowd for parading without a permit or disorderly conduct based on “the boisterous and rapidly evolving” events of the day, officers’ past experience with marchers and the sheer number of people involved.

The ACLU is now challenging Russo’s recommendation to a federal district judge. The ACLU contends that the police decision to kettle in 2017 wasn’t based on “individualized probable cause or reasonable suspicion” but was planned by police in advance and was “pretextual.”

A Multnomah County judge previously found that reasonable suspicion “merely requires” an officer to have an “objectively reasonable basis to suspect criminal activity is either afoot or about to be afoot, and that the officer be able to articulate specific facts in support of that suspicion.”

The Oregon Justice Resource Center and the Council on Islamic-American Relations, known as CAIR- Oregon, joined with the ACLU to call for a federal investigation into the police decision Friday night to detain “an entire city block of people for protesting on their own streets in their own city” and then requiring them to remove their masks, be photographed and show ID before being allowed to leave.

They argued that the information obtained by police will be used to intimidate and dox the people.

In depositions taken of Portland police in the 2017 kettling cases, a Portland sergeant said the photos of individuals taken during a kettling are sometimes used to compare to video police took of earlier criminal acts to determine if anyone can be identified and tied to the acts, according to court records.

(c)2021 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)