Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has called violence at protests in Portland, Oregon unacceptable and challenged United States President Donald Trump to stop “recklessly encouraging” it, after one person was killed on Saturday during clashes between rival groups.
Demonstrations against racism and police brutality have swept the US since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.
Protests have roiled downtown Portland every night for more than three months following Floyd’s death, and police there said they had made arrests after one person was killed on Saturday night.
“I condemn violence of every kind by anyone, whether on the left or the right. And I challenge Donald Trump to do the same,” Biden said in a statement, adding that “we must not become a country at war with ourselves.”
“What does President Trump think will happen when he continues to insist on fanning the flames of hate and division in our society and using the politics of fear to whip up his supporters? He is recklessly encouraging violence,” the former vice president added.
Early on Sunday, Trump issued a flurry of tweets and retweets including several that blamed Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler for the death and one in which the president appeared to be encouraging his supporters to move into Portland.
“GREAT PATRIOTS!” Trump wrote as he shared video of his supporters driving into Portland to confront the protesters.
In a later tweet, he appeared to blame Wheeler for the “death and destruction of his city”.
Republicans deny Trump is seeking to exacerbate violence with incendiary rhetoric, saying he wants to restore law and order, and accusing Democratic mayors and state governors of losing control of cities rocked by demonstrations that have seen outbreaks of violence, arson and vandalism.
Jason Miller, a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign, said on Twitter that Biden had “sat idly by for months, refusing to condemn violence and chaos from his allies in Democrat-run cities.”
Rival groups clash
On Saturday, fights broke out as a caravan of about 600 vehicles was confronted by protesters in the city’s downtown area.
“Portland Police officers heard sounds of gunfire from the area of Southeast 3rd Avenue and Southwest Alder Street. They responded and located a victim with a gunshot wound to the chest. Medical responded and determined that the victim was deceased,” the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.
In the two hours following the shooting, protesters gathered downtown and there was sporadic fighting and vandalism, police said. Ten people were arrested, police said.
The caravan arrived downtown just as a protest planned for Saturday was getting under way. The chaotic scene came two days after Trump invoked Portland as a liberal city overrun with violence in a speech at the Republican National Convention as part of his “law and order” re-election campaign theme.
The caravan marked the third Saturday in a row that Trump supporters have rallied in the city.
‘All options on the table’
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blamed local officials for failing “to protect their communities”.
“I’m asking Portland officials – so that’s the mayor, that’s the governor and that’s local law enforcement – to do their job to address any violent activity that is occurring in their streets,” Wolf told CBS News on Sunday.
Wolf said “all options continue to be on the table” to resolve the protests and that the federal government was prepared to send agents to Portland and other cities to protect federal buildings and assist police.
When federal agents increased their presence in downtown Portland in July, the city saw some of the largest protests of the summer, with thousands of people turning out nightly. The crowds dissipated after the agents withdrew and state police agreed to protect federal buildings for two weeks.
Trump and other speakers at last week’s Republican convention evoked a violent, dystopian future if Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden wins in November and pointed to Portland as a cautionary tale for what would be in store for Americans.
The pro-Trump rally’s organiser, who recently coordinated a similar caravan in Boise, Idaho, said in a video posted on Saturday on Twitter that attendees should only carry concealed weapons and the route was being kept secret for safety reasons.
The caravan had gathered earlier in the day at a suburban shopping centre and drove as a group to the heart of Portland. As they arrived in the city, protesters attempted to stop them by standing in the street and blocking bridges.
Videos from the scene showed sporadic fighting, as well as Trump supporters firing paintball pellets at opponents and using bear spray as counter-protesters threw things at the Trump caravan.
The Black Lives Matter demonstrations usually target police buildings and federal buildings. Some protesters have called for reductions in police budgets while the city’s mayor and some in the Black community have decried the violence.