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DHS Defends Use Of Force, Tactics During Portland Protests

Portland protests federal officers teargas - Levinson OPB.jpg
Jonathan Levinson
Federal officers deploy gas to disperse crowds of protesters near the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 20, 2020.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf is standing by his agency’s use of unmarked vehicles to take protesters off the street in Portland, effectively denying that federal officers have done anything wrong.

In a press conference Tuesday with the heads of the Federal Protective Service and Customs and Border Protection, Wolf said he believed the pending inspector general investigation will vindicate the department.

“What we’ve seen from video is that they acted appropriately,” Wolf said.

A video widely circulated online shows officers walk up to a protester on the street, and, without identifying themselves or explaining why they were taking him, drive the person away in an unmarked minivan. Those people also ignored requests from people in the vicinity to identify themselves.

In another account reported by OPB, Mark Pettibone said he was walking to his car in the early morning of July 16 when officers got out of a minivan, pulled his beanie down over his eyes and scuttled him away to the federal courthouse without explanation. Pettibone said he had no idea who had taken him until his beanie was removed inside the courthouse.

“We are only targeting and arresting those who have been identified as committing criminal acts,” Wolf said at Tuesday’s press conference, “like any other law enforcement agency does across the country.”

Pettibone was not charged with any crime and DHS has not said whether the second individual has been charged.

Mark Morgan, acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, reiterated that federal law enforcement officers are in Portland to protect federal property.

“We are not patrolling the streets of Portland, as has been falsely reported,” Morgan claimed, despite federal officers assisting the Portland police in clearing city streets on multiple nights.
During the 45-minute press conference, officials described the protesters as “violent” 22 times.

“These individuals are organized and they have one mission in mind: to burn down or to cause extreme damage to the federal courthouse and to law enforcement officers,” Wolf said.

On Monday night, an estimated 1,000 moms and dads showed up to the protests for racial justice and against police violence outside the federal courthouse. After linking arms and making a “wall of moms” between the courthouse doors and the protesters, federal law enforcement burst from the building, using tear gas and impact munitions to disperse the overwhelmingly nonviolent crowd.

Portland protests wall of moms - Levinson.jpg
Jonathan Levinson
The “Wall of Moms” links arms in front of the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse in Portland, Ore., July 20, 2020.

Wolf and the other federal officials claimed without evidence that protesters were violent and threw rocks and glass bottles at officers. Some protesters had thrown water bottles at the building and at officers.

One of the organizers for the group of moms told OPB three of their members were arrested, while many more were tear gassed and hit as federal officers indiscriminately fired less lethal munitions into the crowd.

Wolf said, so far, federal officers have arrested 43 people in Portland since July 4. It is not clear how many have been charged with crimes.
Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jonathan Levinson is a multimedia reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. He’s the Audion Fellow covering Guns & America.