“Anarchist” rioters, commemorating an activist’s death, rampaged through downtown Portland, Oregon, last week causing nearly half a million dollars in damages, but police say they were powerless to control the mob because of a new law that restricts the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and other items typically deployed to control unruly crowds.
“A group of about 100 demonstrators broke windows and left graffiti scrawled on downtown Portland buildings Tuesday night at the end of a gathering commemorating the anniversary of a local activist’s death,” The Oregonian reported over the weekend. “Police eventually declared the event an unlawful assembly, according to social media posts from the demonstration, after some people lit fires in the street and set off fireworks.”
“No arrests have been made and investigations are underway,” according to law enforcement sources that spoke to the outlet. “The damage is believed to be over $500,000, and 35 separate locations were targeted, including banks, retail stores, coffee shops, and government buildings, according to police, who referred to the demonstrators as ‘anarchists.’”
The Daily Mail also noted that the event, planned by the activist’s mother in order to protest the year-long investigation that has so far produced no results, was billed as “not a peaceful event” and “a night of rage and anger.”
Shocking photos of the damage rolled in to social media late last week.
— Portland Police (@PortlandPolice) October 13, 2021
Portland police ultimately handled the riot, but law enforcement told local media that their options were limited by a state law that limits how police can respond to disorderly conduct.
“Lt. Jake Jensen with the Portland Police Bureau joined the Pearl District Neighborhood Association meeting Thursday night on the heels of widespread vandalism in the area,” Portland’s KOIN reported last week. “Jensen said House Bill 2928 is the reason officers aren’t directly intervening as vandals damage downtown Portland property.”
“The reason that we did not intervene goes back to what we talked about last month with HB 2928 and the restrictions placed on us in a crowd control environment,” Jenson told the meeting. “That’s the way our legislature has said we need to operate in a crowd control environment. So that’s the way we are going to operate in a crowd control environment.”
HB 2928 largely bars the use of tear gas, pepper spray, and non-lethal ammunition, which police had previously been using to control crowds of rioters. The law applies to all law enforcement agencies in the state of Oregon.
“The fact of the matter is without being able to use pepper spray, without being able to use our 40mm less-lethal devices in that kind of environment, it really prevents us from having access to the tools we need in large part to keep ourselves safe,” Jensen said.
One resident asked Jensen whether Portland was now a “lawless city,” but Jensen assured neighbors that rioters who do major damage will still face repercussions, but that justice will likely be delayed until an investigation can be completed.
“In these cases, the consequences are going to come not on the night of, but in the follow-up investigation,” he said.