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Following Police Killing, Violence Erupts In Downtown Portland

Protesters broke windows at the Oregon Historical Society on April 17, 2021. Widespread violence erupted in downtown Portland following a police shooting earlier in the day.
Sergio Olmos
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Protesters broke windows at the Oregon Historical Society on April 17, 2021. Widespread violence erupted in downtown Portland following a police shooting earlier in the day.

Widespread violence not seen since the start of 2020's massive protests for racial justice erupted in Portland on Friday night, following a fatal police shooting earlier in the day.

Activists seeking to abolish police caused damage to several buildings in downtown Portland on Friday night, including a church, the Oregon Historical Society and a bank.

The widespread violence closed a tense day in the city, after Portland police officers shot and killed a man in a city park Friday morning.

Fatal police shootings across the country this week led to several violent protests in the city that saw activists set fires, damage windows, and attack police vehicles and on law enforcement property, but Friday’s killing in Lents Park of a white man – who witnesses said appeared to be having a mental health crisis – brought much wider destruction in Portland.

The crowd that caused that damage gathered in Director Park before 10 p.m., and carried out a spree of window smashing and graffiti that police quickly declared a riot.

Police officers in riot gear made several arrests throughout the night, and told the crowd to disperse.

Videos and images posted online showed fires started in dumpsters downtown, and around 100 protesters squaring off with officers at times. Despite dispersal efforts, activists carrying out damage continued into the early hours of Saturday. Some ripped plywood off shuttered buildings like the Pioneer Place shopping mall, others set fire to the Apple store and scrawled the words “No More History” onto broken windows of the Oregon Historical Society.

At one point, gunshots erupted downtown, though it did not immediately appear anyone had been injured. It was not immediately clear who fired the weapon.

Earlier in the night, hundreds of people also participated in a Black Lives Matter march and speech event along the downtown waterfront, where speakers encouraged white Portlanders to take an active role in ending police killings.

The crowd then marched across the Hawthorne Bridge and shouted “stand up, fight back!”

City officials began to brace for protests almost immediately after word of the shooting in Lents Park began to spread Friday. Portland police sent officers in riot gear to surround the shooting scene, and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler quickly issued a statement urging calm.

“I recognize why people are concerned and possibly angry. While our understanding of this incident evolves, I urge everyone to proceed with empathy and peace,” wrote Wheeler, who is also the city’s police commissioner.

The mayor’s plea had little effect, as the Friday night protests reached a level of violence not seen since the beginning of last year’s massive protests for racial justice following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

This latest round of protests came as the city is facing pressure on several fronts involving law enforcement. The City Council is scheduled Saturday to hear public testimony the police budget for the next fiscal year. A nationwide surge in gun violence has proven deadly in Portland as staffing shortages have left police scrambling to keep up with record killings. And the U.S. Department of Justice could soon slap the city with sanctions over officers’ excessive use of force at 2020 protests that violated a longstanding consent decree.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Sergio Olmos, Ryan Haas