Portland Police Chief Mike Marshman said when it comes to the peaceful protests we generally see in Portland, police don’t mind helping facilitate them.
The agreement between the mayor’s office and police bureau was to allow people to voice their concerns, exercise their First amendment and “let them take the streets.”
He said when protests stick to city streets, where it’s safe, police are happy to work with demonstrators. The protests this week, however, have led to freeways and bridges.
“One of the things I’m always concerned about with protest events is when protesters get on freeways where obviously, vehicles are moving very, very fast,” Marshman told KOIN 6 News. “It’s super, super dangerous and it’s also hard to control.”
Pedestrians on freeways is a crime by itself, but Thursday night’s protest became a riot when what police called anarchists took over.
“Last night you have some of the anarchist, or essentially a criminal element, embedding themselves in with other protesters and that’s where you lose the message of frustration and turn to the message of criminal activities,” Marshman said.
It became a challenge for police to take action against the minority who were committing crimes of vandalism and violence.
“It’s very hard for us to go in, grab the people committing crimes with very few officers and not create our flash point,” Marshman said. “You have to weigh the odds: Which is worse, potentially starting a flash point and having simply innocent folks caught in the swell and getting hurt or pay for a window? I get that. I see both sides.”
Hours into the riot, police did resort to using non-lethal force, including flash bangs, rubber bullets and tear gas, in attempts to control the crowd.
“Once it started turning toward there’s property damage, the mayor’s office and I, again, agreed that now it’s time for the police to step in,” Marshman said.
With more protests and rallies expected to follow Thursday’s actives, police are reaching out to organizers of various groups.
“We’re simply asking them to take a break,” Marshman said. “Take a day off from doing this because we don’t want the criminal element to use the protesters as way to embed themselves in to commit crime.”