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Curfew Lifted, Large Protests Converge In Portland

Calls for Oregon leaders to meaningfully address systemic racism and police brutality continued Tuesday with a fifth night of widespread demonstrations in Portland.

UPDATE (11:16 p.m. PT)

Several thousand people gathered across the city, congregating near Revolution Hall, Pioneer Courthouse Square and the Burnside Bridge as the protests began. It was a continuation of national protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, who killed Floyd on Memorial Day by restricting his airflow for nearly nine minutes.

Tuesday's was the first major demonstration without a curfew in place, as Portland leaders acknowledged earlier in the day that the restriction had done little to deter people from protesting.

At the beginning of the evening, demonstrations seemed to aim for a similar format to the overwhelmingly peaceful march that took place Monday. Protesters gathered to hear speeches before marching through downtown. At one point, people covered nearly every inch of the Burnside Bridge as they laid down, hands behind their back, for nine minutes in memory of Floyd.

The massive crowd packed into Pioneer Courthouse Square after 8 p.m. and listened to music and more speeches.

Among the speakers was Joe Bean Keller, whose son Deonte Keller was killed by Portland police officer Terry Kruger in 1996 during a traffic stop. 

Keller said his son did not receive medical treatment for more than an hour after being shot “because a dead witness is the best witness."

"But we’re not having that no more ... we have the proof in our hands,” Keller said, referring to cellphone footage like that of Floyd's death that has outraged Americans.

Kruger went on to become chief of the West Linn Police Department, but was placed on administrative leave in April as several investigations were launched into officers who had discriminated against and wrongfully arrested Michael Fesser, a black man, in February 2017.

“Sometimes it takes patience and time for our prayers to be answered," Keller told the massive crowd Tuesday.

The demonstration did not stay entirely peaceful, however. Around 9:15 p.m., Portland police fired tear gas, flash bangs and other crowd control measures after people had gathered at a fence blocking off access to areas that had been hardest hit by vandalism in previous nights' protests. 
Officers fired tear gas directly into large groups of protesters, splitting them into smaller groups as people fled the noxious fumes. PPB then declared the demonstration an unlawful assembly, said criminal behavior was happening and ordered people to leave downtown.

The Oregon Justice Resource Center swiftly condemned police actions, calling the use of tear gas and other measures against protesters “reprehensible.”

“The actions of our City and State reveal the incredible levels of willful ignorance in Oregon around police violence and the enormity of the racial justice issues we are facing,” the nonprofit legal group said in a statement.

Speaking at a Tuesday morning press conference, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler noted that until he and other leaders take action to address systemic problems that have resulted in the deaths of Black Americans, demonstrations are likely to continue. Wheeler said he was still determining what those actions should be.

“I don’t see how we move out of this current mode of thinking — which is large demonstrations demanding justice — until we get to the OK, we’ve now heard it, we’ve acknowledged it, so what concrete actions are we taking next. And I want to hear more from the community about what they think we should do,” Wheeler said.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers of color defined some of their goals for the upcoming legislative session Tuesday. State Sen. Lew Frederick said the Oregon Legislature's People of Color Caucus will be focused on police accountability when lawmakers meet next.

Frederick said the first pieces of legislation would be focused on ensuring disciplinary actions for officers who commit misconduct, independent oversight of investigations when law enforcement kills someone, and a work group to look at state laws around the use of force.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Ryan Haas has been with Oregon Public Broadcasting since 2013. His work has won numerous awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations for the podcast "Bundyville." Prior to working at OPB, Haas worked at newspapers in Illinois, Florida, Oregon and the Caribbean.
Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.