PORTLAND, Oregon — Police detained two people Sunday night after a single gunshot was reportedly fired at a protest encampment area near a federal courthouse that has for more than a week been the site of violent confrontations between activists and federal officers. It was unclear if the shooting was related to the protest.
Witnesses reported seeing a group of people fighting in the same area shortly before the shot was fired around 7:30 p.m. One person arrived at a local hospital for treatment, police said.
“As police were securing the scene a person arrived at a hospital by private vehicle with an apparent gunshot wound, non-life threatening. That person seems to have been associated with the incident,” police officials said in a statement.
Police officials also said they discovered a bag in the protest area Sunday night containing loaded rifle magazines and Molotov cocktails.
Videos posted to Twitter showed angry crowds confronting police investigating the shooting. Portland police have largely ceded the area to protesters for the past week, but descended quickly following the reported shooting.
“Anyone who interferes with police performing their duty is subject to arrest,” Portland Police tweeted.
Within 90 minutes of the reported shooting, Portland police had left the area entirely and the protest scene had seemingly returned to its normal form. Techno music pumped from a speaker at the “Riot Ribs“ free food kitchen and a group of protesters gathered after a short march through the area.
Thousands of protesters have flocked to the streets surrounding the federal courthouse each night for nearly two months since the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day in Minneapolis, and while federal agents have been subjected to barrages of fireworks, bottles and flaming garbage, violence between protesters has been limited.
Activists aligned with the Black Lives Matter social justice movement have said they are worried the focus on federal law enforcement and the courthouse risks diluting their efforts to overhaul the Portland police department.
The protest area has largely been void of local law enforcement officials in recent days. Police no longer routinely patrol the streets in the area, mostly turning a blind eye to people spray painting graffiti on surrounding buildings, setting small fires, destroying pedestrian walk signals, illegally camping in a park and urinating in doorways. In their place, self-appointed guardians manage traffic, provide meals and aid protesters hit with tear gas.
Sunday night, activist and artist Donovan Smith, 28, climbed atop a pickup parked in the middle of the protest and told attendees the Black community must focus on more than just police reform.
“We are doing worse today in Oregon than we were 50 years ago,” he said, calling for the crowd to vote for Black City Council members willing to restructure the police department and examine issues of economic inequality.
Aside from the shooting, the protest was calm. Sunday’s crowd was substantially smaller than the estimated 4,000 people who attended Saturday night and saw far less interaction between protesters and federal agents.
Saturday night, protesters screamed at officers to quit their jobs and a small number of protesters attached ropes to a fence encircling the courthouse building, pulling down a section. This prompted agents to swarm out into the street, firing tear gas, to push the crowd back.
Portland police declared the protest a riot just after 1 a.m. on Sunday morning and sent in police cars and officers to scatter participants, making six arrests. Federal agents made eight arrests for either assaulting an officer or failing to comply with officers’ orders.
The Department of Homeland Security said 14 agents were hurt in confrontations with protesters Saturday night, variously referring to participants as “anarchists,” “violent actors” and “rioters.” Agents said they were hit with bottles and fireworks and blinded with lasers and high-intensity flashlights.
President Donald Trump, who sent in the federal officers more than a week ago, said journalists were not showing what’s “really” going on. “They want the American public to believe that these are just some wonderful protesters, not radical left ANARCHISTS!” he tweeted Sunday. He then followed up by accusing hundreds of mothers protesting in Portland under the name “Wall of Moms” of being part of a scam.
Trump accused protesters — which have also included fathers, college students, doctors and nurses, scientists and military veterans — of being anarchists “who hate our country.”
To appease protesters, city leaders have taken steps to reform the police department, cutting $15 million from what would have been a $245 million budget and disbanding three specialty units that patrolled schools and public transit and worked to reduce gun violence. City leaders also downsized the department’s SWAT team, and allocated $5 million to pay for unarmed first responders to assist people experiencing homelessness.
But Tai Carpenter of the activist group Don’t Shoot PDX said victory will come not only when the federal presence decreases in the city, but if major change happens within local government. To her, that’s the disbanding of the Portland Police Bureau and the resignation of Mayor Ted Wheeler.
“Our resistance community is very strong. First, we had the Wall of Moms and then it’s the Wall of Dads, the Wall of Veterans. There’s a constant evolution here, and people are always finding more and more reasons to say, ‘I’m going out there, too,’” she said. “Hopefully, things change by November. I’m feeling good about it, especially with so many youth leading. They’re extremely inspiring, and they’re so organized.”
Ameya Okamoto, 20, the lead organizer with Fridays4Freedom, said she is leery to use the word “victory” when discussing outcomes of any protest because “we know we’re long-term.” She’s hopeful there will be small milestones worth celebrating, like “the unseating of a white, complicit mayor” but recognizes overall that “this fight is so much bigger than us.”
The group was founded just before Juneteenth, and has posted a list of demands on its Instagram page, including disarming Portland State University; the creation and implementation of ethnic studies programs throughout Portland Public Schools; and the complete abolition of the Portland Police Bureau
Wheeler, who was teargassed by federal officers late Wednesday night after spending hours at the demonstration trying to calm protesters, will face off in November against Sarah Iannarone, an urban policy consultant who also took on Wheeler in the 2016 mayoral race, finishing third in the primary. She’s been a regular at protests and has participated in the protest’s “Wall of Moms.”
“If you’re going to decry the violence of Trump’s feds, and say they’re not welcome here, you need to decry the violence in your own law enforcement,” she told The Oregonian last week about Wheeler’s leadership. “The mayor isn’t willing to do that. He won’t have the public trust until he does.”