The governor of the US state of Oregon said Friday she is sending state troopers and sheriffs deputies to Portland through the weekend to help monitor a weekend rally in the city by the Proud Boys, a right-wing group, and counter-protests.
Portland has been racked by often violent protests for more than three months, following the police killing of George Floyd in the US state of Minneapolis, which prompted a nationwide movement against police brutality and anti-Black racism.
Demonstrations that went into a lull during Oregon’s recent wildfires resumed this week, driven by a Kentucky grand jury’s decision to not indict officers in the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor.
Governor Kate Brown told reporters she is exercising her gubernatorial authority to place Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Oregon State Police Superintendent Travis Hampton in charge of Portland’s public safety on Saturday and Sunday.
Brown said that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler supports the plan.
“This is our entire community coming together to protect our community,” Brown said. “We want the highest level of coordination and the strongest leadership possible.”
Oregon State Police Superintendent Hampton said that the change in command “is in no way an indictment of our colleagues at the Portland Police Bureau for the job that they have done or would have done this weekend”.
“The Portland Police Bureau, their officers have endured some incredibly mentally and physically taxing situations for over 100 days, while they have done the best they can to keep Portland streets safe,” Hampton said.
State troopers, sheriff’s deputies and local police have worked together in the past during downtown protests in Portland, Hampton said.
Similar competing demonstrations have ended with fistfights and bloodshed, including the fatal shooting on August 29 of Aaron “Jay” Danielson, a supporter of a right-wing group, who was killed in Portland after a caravan of pro-Trump supporters drove pick-up trucks downtown.
The suspect, Antifa supporter Michael Reinoehl, was shot in a hail of gunfire by federal officers as they moved in to arrest him in neighbouring Washington state.
In advance of the planned Proud Boys rally on Saturday, Brown said she “is incredibly concerned about the increased risk of violence in Portland this weekend and the safety of all Oregonians”.
“Some people will be armed, with others ready to harass or intimidate Oregonians,” Brown said. “The pattern of these particular groups is clear, to intimidate, instigate and inflame.”
Hampton said officers sent to Portland could use tear gas and less-lethal ammunition to disperse crowds if the protest and counter-protests become violent or if people’s lives are in danger.
“Certainly with the use of any tool or option, we are always going to be proportional in our response,” Hampton said. “We want to do everything we can to intercede early, so we don’t have to get to a higher level of force if it’s required to keep the peace.”
Portland Mayor Wheeler has banned local police from using tear gas.
Organisers have said the Proud Boys rally will support US President Donald Trump and the police and condemn anti-fascists that the group accuses of “domestic terrorism”.
The city denied a permit to protest organisers, citing estimated crowds of thousands amid the coronavirus pandemic. But police said they will not try to stop the Proud Boys from gathering at a park in northern Portland.
“If you want to come to Oregon, to Portland, to peacefully protest, to assemble, to voice your outrage, to voice your concern – we welcome you for that,” Hampton said.
“If your job and your intent is to come to Oregon to commit crimes, to provoke, to make people feel unsafe in their homes, then we do not want you to come here.”