Protesters breach fence of federal courthouse in Portland as authorities declare riot

Protests intensified in Portland, Ore., on Saturday as thousands of people gathered outside a federal courthouse that has for weeks been the site of violent clashes between federal law enforcement and demonstrators. 

The Portland Police Department declared a riot in the city early Sunday, shortly after a group of protesters toppled part of a fence outside the Mark O. Hatfield Courthouse. The police said the riot was declared in response to the "violent conduct" of people who were creating "grave risk of public alarm."

At around 1 a.m., some demonstrators attached a chain to the fence positioned outside the federal courthouse and managed to pull a section of it to the pavement, the police said. Federal officers exited the courthouse and deployed multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse the crowd in response, according to The Oregonian

At one point, the police began issuing public address announcements ordering individuals to leave the area, warning that those who remained in the area risked arrest or a citation. In a statement, the department claimed people threw bottles and shot "mortar style fireworks" at officers as they attempted to clear the demonstration. Several people were arrested, police said. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Protests have persisted in Portland for 59 consecutive days in response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Tensions boiled over earlier this month when the Trump administration deployed federal officers to the city. Federal agents have repeatedly used tear gas on protesters outside the courthouse. 

Their presence also sparked alarm after reports first surfaced that officers in military fatigues were detaining people in unmarked vans. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum (D) has filed a lawsuit alleging that federal agencies were illegally detaining citizens without probable cause. 

Local officials, including Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D), have been outspoken in their opposition to federal law enforcement's presence. Wheeler, who has repeatedly called on the federal agencies to leave, was hit with tear gas Wednesday night as he joined protesters outside the courthouse. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"This is not a de-escalation strategy. This is flat-out urban warfare," Wheeler said. "And it's being wrought on the people of this country by the president of the United States, and it's got to stop." 

Saturday's protest included a peaceful march through downtown Portland before demonstrators positioned themselves outside the courthouse. About 1,000 protesters reached the courthouse by about 10 p.m. Some protesters shot fireworks over the fence, prompting federal agents to toss canisters of tear gas at the crowd, according to The Associated Press.

Demonstrators also gathered outside the Portland Police Association offices and the police department's North Precinct. 

The heightening tensions came as protesters in several other cities gather in the streets in a show of solidarity with the demonstrations in Portland. Seattle police also declared a riot Saturday after buildings were vandalized and multiple fires were set. 

Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell released a video statement following another night of unrest, imploring those in Portland and other regions to support the city by avoiding violence. 

“Across the country people are committing violence, supposedly in support of Portland,” Lovell said. “If you want to support Portland then stop the violence, work for peace. Portland police officers and police facilities have been threatened. Now more than ever, Portland police needs your support.”