Portland protesters early Wednesday began to set up tents in the park near the federal courthouse and have barricaded streets to create their own autonomous zone, likened to the since disbanded Capitol Hill Occupied Protest in Seattle.
Demonstrators began erecting tents in downtown Portland’s Lownsdale Square, across the street from the federal Pioneer Courthouse, one of the federal properties Homeland Security sought to protect by bringing federal officers into the city two weeks ago.
A camera at the Portland Standard Building showed protesters beginning to assemble tents late Tuesday night in the same park where “Occupy Portland” set up in 2011, KATU reported.
An unofficial Twitter page attributed to a group of anti-capitalist, anti-fascist teens who call themselves the Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front said protesters want to establish the Chinook Land Autonomous Territory, or CLAT, in downtown Portland. The Chinook people include several indigenous groups native to the Pacific Northwest.
“People are needed here ALL night long, especially in the early morning! Get on over rn! Bring some tents,” the Twitter page said, sharing an image of a barricade that read “ACAB,” an acronym meaning "All Cops Are Bastards," and “Black Trans Lives Matter.”
The Portland Police Department said in a statement early Wednesday that a “couple hundred demonstrators gathered at Revolution Hall in Southeast Portland and marched all throughout downtown Portland before ending their march at Pioneer Square” Tuesday evening.
Police said some demonstrators later headed to the Justice Center and by 9:15 p.m. stood in the road, blocking traffic. They then began to barricade Southwest Main Street and Southwest Salmon Street at Southwest Third Avenue using “industrial kitchen appliances, road blockades, and flashing traffic signs.” Demonstrators also lit several fires.
Around 1 a.m., demonstrators “in an organized effort” left the barricades and walked to the Central Precinct “in an attempt to disrupt officers as they walked in from the end of their shift,” the police statement said. At that time, officers removed some of the barricades at Southwest 3rd Avenue and Southwest Salmon Street. But demonstrators then began returning to the area and “officers disengaged.”
Demonstrators threw glass bottles and pointed lasers at officers and set fire to what was left of the barricade, police said. Several minutes later, a demonstrator extinguished the fire and several demonstrators began to rebuild the barricade.
Police added: “No CS gas, crowd control munitions, or force was used.”
Civil unrest engulfed many U.S. cities when George Floyd died after a White Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck on May 25 while he was in custody. But in Portland, which is familiar ground for the loosely organized, far-left activists known as “Antifa,” or anti-fascists, the protests never stopped.
Downtown businesses have racked up millions in property damage and lost sales, and hundreds of thousands of Portland residents have stayed off the streets for six weeks. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, a Democrat, said President Trump did not “quell” the violence and instead “escalated” tensions by deploying federal officers to Oregon’s largest city earlier this month.
Over the weekend, one demonstrator was critically injured when a federal officer fired non-lethal ammunition, striking him in the head. In a separate incident, a 23-year-old protester was arrested for attacking a federal officer with a hammer as he left a courthouse.
Referring to federal officers, Wheeler said Tuesday that “the best thing they can do is stay inside their building, or leave Portland altogether." The mayor added that "our goal is to end these violent demonstrations quickly and safely. And in the meantime, I asked him to clean up the graffiti on local federal facilities.”
“I was born and raised here, and I’m a graduate of the local public school system. I chose to make my livelihood here, I chose to raise my daughter here,” said Wheeler, who has faced criticism from all sides, according to the Associated Press. “And in all the years that I have lived here, I have never seen the community more divided. Nor have I seen it look worse.”
Pacific Northwest Youth Liberation Front, which defines itself as a “Decentralized network of autonomous youth collectives dedicated to direct action toward total liberation,” has reportedly helped organize protesters and provide tactical advice.
The page retweeted several images of makeshift, plywood barriers spray-painted with other messages, including “Abolish Pigs and Prisons,” “Black Liberation Now,” “Stolen Land” and “Racism Chokes Us All.”
The group directed protesters to hold an area near Salmon Street after riot police arrived earlier Wednesday morning to remove barricades blocking the roadways.
One woman retweeted by the group, Lindsey Smith, who said she is a preschool teacher fliming cop activity during protests, shared videos showing protesters shuffling supplies in carts down the block to construct a new barriers in what she described as a “barricade building party.” Bags of garbage were seen burning in the street and some protesters played trumpets and drums.
The mayor and police have repeatedly decried violent clashes as a destructive distraction from the Black Lives Matter movement and make a sharp distinction between peaceful demonstrators and those bent on engaging with authorities, whom the police call “agitators.”
Other officials, including several city commissioners, Democratic Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon’s House speaker, have criticized the police for being too aggressive. Meanwhile, a cycle of unrest, police response and further outrage has ensued.
“There’s really this battle that we’re having right now — a communications war over who’s a ‘good protester’ and who’s a ‘bad protester.’ And what the police and the mayor are trying to do is turn the city against the people that are out protesting,” Gregory McKelvey, an activist and critic of the police response, told the Associated Press.
“Each night’s protest is now turning into a protest of the night before’s police activity. And so when people say we want this to stop, it can’t stop because today’s protest will be about what the feds or the Portland Police Bureau did yesterday,” said McKelvey.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.