PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — More than two dozen protesters were arrested on charges including disorderly conduct, interfering with a police officer, riot and assault on a police officer during protests that stretched into the early morning hours of Wednesday, Portland police said.
Authorities said protesters threw cans, water bottles, fireworks and “baseball-sized rocks" at police, which prompted officers in riot gear to chase them away with tear gas after declaring a riot. Some demonstrators disputed the police characterization in Twitter posts and said officers seemed to react much faster and more aggressively than at past protests.
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek condemned the police response — and the use of tear gas — on Wednesday. In a strongly worded letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler, Kotek called the officers' actions “unacceptable.” The protesters had been gathering near the police officers' union headquarters when the conflicts broke out.
'"It was an unnecessary escalation by the PPB against people exercising their freedom of assembly and freedom of speech," Kotek said. “It showed an utter inability to exercise restraint. Smart policing is when an officer can differentiate a minor provocation from a serious threat. Nothing about this was smart.”
In a statement, Wheeler said he appreciated Kotek's input and said peaceful protests over the past month have “brought the community together in new and transformational ways.”
“We look forward to providing her a briefing so that she has the benefit of the same information our team ... is operating with,” he said of Tuesday night's events.
Newly appointed Police Chief Chuck Lovell, who is Black, defended the decision to declare a riot.
“Some have said we are only protecting an empty building and the force used was excessive,” he said in a statement Wednesday. "My response to that is we would have seen one building lit on fire in a neighborhood where a commercial building fire could have led to residences being burned with families inside.”
The protests late Tuesday and into early Wednesday were in the same area where demonstrations late last week and on Monday night also escalated into violence. Protesters have been targeting the North Precinct police station and, last week, briefly set fire outside the building.
The police station is in a historically Black part of the city and many of the businesses in the same building as the police station are Black-owned. Wheeler and Lovell held a news conference last week with local business owners and community leaders condemning the protesters' tactics.
Thousands of people have turned out every night for more than a month in the liberal Pacific Northwest city since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
At its peak, 10,000 people marched every night to protest police brutality and racial injustice. In recent days, the protests have been smaller but have ended in violent clashes with police officers, most recently in North Portland.