The Stranger's sister publication, The Portland Mercury, originally posted this report on their blog, Blogtown. Follow them for the latest Portland updates.
Protesters gathered in downtown Portland Tuesday night to mark the year anniversary of George Floyd's death with a march, chants, fireworks, and property destruction. The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) deemed the demonstration a riot, and responded to the crowd with impact munitions and arrests.
A group of demonstrators met in front of the Multnomah County Justice Center shortly after 8 pm Tuesday, with the majority of attendees dressed in identity-obscuring all-black clothing.
The Justice Center, which also holds PPB's Central Precinct, has become a familiar gathering spot for racial justice protests over the past year. The building sits across the street from Chapman and Lownsdale squares, two city parks that have been fenced off by the city in recent months to allow newly planted grass to germinate. The sidewalks bordering the parks have become home to several unhoused campers since the fences were erected. Protesters mingled with campers before the march began Tuesday evening.
As the crowd grew to at least 200, protesters began chanting, "Say his name, George Floyd!" and, "Whose lives matter? Black lives matter!" to a steady drumbeat. Several attendees began dismantling the fences encircling the two squares, as onlookers cheered.
As the sun set, protesters wheeled a dumpster over to the side of the Justice Center building, and lit its contents on fire. It was this action that drew a line of riot police from the building, announcing over a loudspeaker that the gathering was an "unlawful assembly" as they marched towards the burning dumpster. Police stood by until firefighters arrived to extinguish the flames rising from the dumpster, which has begun to melt in the heat. After the fire was put out, officers began to retreat, only to be interrupted by several commercial-grade fireworks lit by members of the protest crowd. Officers responded by shooting clouds of smoke and impact munitions into the crowd, before driving off.
What followed amounted to several hours of protesters marching through downtown Portland streets, with some pausing to shatter windows of various retail shops along the way. One attendee broke a large window of Ruth's Chris Steak House, as patrons watched from inside the restaurant. A protester smashed at least one window on the first floor of Portland City Hall with an e-scooter.
Police appeared several times to announce to protesters that the march was officially a riot, a designation that allows law enforcement to use tear gas and impact munitions on protesters. No arrests were made by PPB until just before midnight, when police confronted the remaining crowd by the Justice Center.
According to a PPB press release, officers arrested five people on "criminal mischief" charges, with some receiving additional charges of riot and arson.
The night's demonstration featured several interruptions that have become commonplace at local racial justice protests: Fighting between activists over protest tactics. At multiple points in the evening, protesters engaged in shouting matches, questioning each other's intentions and actions. At least one fistfight broke out in the middle of a street between two attendees before the night was through.
A call-and-response chant rippled through the crowd after this clash: "Why are we here? George Floyd!"