Editor's note: This story was originally published for our Portland-based sister paper, The Portland Mercury.
Saturday's Patriot Prayer rally saw an unprecedented use of force by the Portland Police Bureau (PPB). According to the swarm of witnesses, the majority of this force was used against those protesting the alt-right group's volatile visit to Portland. One protester was shot in the head by a "less-lethal" flash bang grenade. If he wasn't wearing a helmet at the time, observers say the grenade could have killed him. Another video captured on Instagram shows a PPB officer clearly shoving a fleeing protester onto the sidewalk and then dousing them in pepper spray. Another protester was left with chemical burns on her arm and chest from a PPB flash bang.
Yesterday afternoon, PPB held a press conference to respond to this apparent imbalance, during which PPB Chief Danielle Outlaw only further tipped the scale in Patriot Prayer's favor. Neither she nor any other PPB officer who spoke this morning condemned Patriot Prayer, a group tied to white supremacists, for inciting violence.
Outlaw did, however, scold counter-protesters for their violent actions.
"This wasn’t folks that were coming to march peacefully and demonstrate, sing Kumbaya and go on their way," Outlaw said, referring to the counter-protesters. "They came with the intent to cause problems."
"If you’re given an order to disperse and you choose not to, that tells me... that you are there for confrontation."
Outlaw claimed that all peaceful protesters left the event before PPB began shooting pepper balls and flash bangs at the crowd. The remaining counter-protesters, she alleges, were wanting a fight.
“If you’re given an order to disperse and you choose not to, that tells me... that you are there for confrontation," she said.
But PPB officers didn't only use force against counter-protesters, Outlaw added.
“We also have video of Patriot Prayer members… that were also impacted by the tools that we used as well," Outlaw said. "It’s a little bit on both sides, but you might see that one side was impacted a little bit more than the other. But we don’t go into it saying we’ll provide special treatment to anybody.”
PPB spokesperson Christopher Burley said he doesn't have that video in his office.
Burley also mentioned that the weapon screening station PPB had originally set up on the protest's boundary didn't last long. He's unsure how many weapons actually made it inside the rally.
PPB did confiscate some weapons earlier in the day. Burley answered questions about the photos of those weapons he sent to reporters during the Saturday protest. Despite many of the weapons being covered in Confederate flags and other symbols synonymous with racism, Burley suggested that counter-protesters could have planted those weapons to make Patriot Prayer look bad. He offered no evidence that this had happened.
The city's Independent Police Review (IPR) has already received 30 complaints from members of the public about officer misconduct during the Saturday protest, according to IPR Director Constantin Severe.
It certainly isn't the first time counter-protesters have felt disproportionally targeted during a Patriot Prayer protest. Just this May, IPR released an investigation that underscored the bias felt by counter-protesters from Portland police during alt-right rallies.