Federal officers deployed tear gas and rounds designed to be less lethal into a crowd of protesters in Oregon on Thursday evening, hours after the head of the Department of Homeland Security visited Portland and called the demonstrators “violent anarchists”.
Video footage showed many protesters leaving the area near the federal court late on Thursday as smoke filled the air. Protests have taken place for nearly two months in Portland, since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
The protests have been largely peaceful, though violence has occurred. Journalists and demonstrators have been apprehended by police and federal agents outfitted in military gear, according to reports.
During a visit to Portland earlier on Thursday, Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said state and city authorities are to blame for not putting an end to the protests, angering local officials.
Mayor Ted Wheeler and other local officials have said they did not ask for help from federal law enforcement and have asked them to leave.
Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland are being assaulted — shot in the head, swept away in unmarked cars, repeatedly tear gassed — by uninvited and unwelcome federal officers.
We won't rest until these federal officers are gone.
— ACLU (@ACLU) July 17, 2020
A few hundred people had gathered near the federal court on Thursday night and set up tents, news outlets reported. Police told protesters to leave after announcing they heard some chanting about burning down the building, according to The Oregonian.
A short time later, federal officers fired rounds and deployed tear gas to break up the crowd.
Some protesters remained in the area early on Friday and were detained, but it was unclear whether any arrests were made, the newspaper reported.
Homeland Security acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said on Fox & Friends on Friday morning the federal government has a responsibility to protect buildings such as the court.
“What we’ve seen around the country is where responsible policing is advanced, violence recedes,” Cuccinelli said. “And Portland hasn’t gotten that memo. Nor have a lot of other cities. And the president is determined to do what we can, within our jurisdiction, to help restore peace to these beleaguered cities.”
President Donald Trump recently sent the federal officers to the city. Tensions have escalated in the past two weeks, particularly after an officer with the US Marshals Service fired a round at a protester’s head on July 11, critically injuring him.
— Dan McCarthy (@DanMcKATU) July 16, 2020
Bystander videos show Donavan LaBella, 26, collapsing to the ground unconscious and bleeding profusely from the head after a federal officer fired a less-lethal round at him.
He was standing with both arms in the air holding a large speaker across the street from the courthouse when he was hit.
LaBella’s mother, Desiree LaBella, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that her son suffered facial and skull fractures. He came out of surgery early on July 12 and was responding to doctors.
“He was awake enough to give the OK to talk to me,” Desiree said in the interview. “He’s had some facial reconstruction surgery. They’re just watching him right now.”
Protests against police violence have rocked the US since May, following Floyd’s alleged murder by Minneapolis police.
While violence has subsided in some cities, it remains present in others. Trump previously faced harsh criticism for his use of the military to quell protests in Washington, DC, and threats to deploy them elsewhere.