U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, the chief federal law enforcement official in Oregon since 2015, slammed the media in a recent interview outside the Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse in Portland for refusing to call the violent riots that have rocked the city for over two months “criminal.”
“So, if we’re going back to how you were talking about this is shadowing the overall message about black lives matter, right?” a reporter asked Williams. “You feel like the late night demonstrations are taking away from the fight for racial justice. Is that correct?”
“These aren’t late night demonstrations. This is criminal activity,” Williams responded. “There’s a difference. What you have failed, and the media have failed to distinguish, between – you seem unwilling to call people engaged in criminal conduct, as criminals, as opposed to lawful protesting.”
“This is unlawful,” Williams continued. “And people, whether you’re an opportunist, an antagonist, an agitator, or an anarchist, call it out for what it is.”
“So, you’re saying the late night activity that is criminal—” the reporter pressed.
“What I’m telling you, is you seem to refuse to call something, ‘late night activity,’ this is criminal,” Williams fired back.
When asked why she could not accurately describe the violent riots as “criminal,” the reporter said it was because she doesn’t have “all the police records,” and that it isn’t her “job” because she is “not a police officer.”
“You’re using, ‘late night activity,’ it sounds like a party,” Williams said. “It’s criminal. Look at the debris. We haven’t had a front door since July 3. That’s criminal, okay?”
“You’re choosing terms that sort of downplay the criminal activity, and what I’m suggesting is if there is an honest accounting of what this is, that helps build the reality check for how this can stop,” Williams later added. “That’s my point.”
Video and transcript below:
U.S. ATTORNEY BILLY J. WILLIAMS: Well, it’s pretty disgusting and unfortunately happening every night. This is just mindless violence and anyone who defends the violence is enabling this to continue, so that’s unfortunate, but it’s a mess.
REPORTER 1: What’s it gonna take to turn the tide here?
WILLIAMS: Yeah, so what I think it’s gonna take, this has to be a community solution. It’s not a law enforcement solution, we’re responding, dealing with it, protecting this property just like the city police are protecting city property, but any real solution to stop the mindless violence that goes on has to come from the community, and I include various community leaders, faith leaders, business leaders working with whoever wants to join in a coalition – whatever you want to call that, the coalition of the willing, whatever.
REPORTER 1: It takes a village.
WILLIAMS: Uh, no. I’m not, I’m not going down that road. No, it takes some leadership, which is missing right now. But to change this – because otherwise this activity is just, it’s hijacking the moment in history, right? There are opportunities following the murder of George Floyd and the thousands and thousands of lawful protesters and groups calling for change, which everyone can agree there’s change needed, so this is one of those moments in history where it can occur, but it’s being held back by this. This is just mindless violence, and it’s been politicized, and in my view that’s what enables this to continue because no one in their right mind thinks this is okay.
REPORTER 2: Some say what’s politicized this though is the federal agents being here…
WILLIAMS: Yeah, the federal agents being here are protecting federal property, that is not accurate. Blaming federal agents for protecting federal property is an easy out for people who want to politicize this.
REPORTER 2: But are they protecting federal property when they’re out on the streets?
WILLIAMS: They’re not out on the streets, okay?
REPORTER 2: They were last night. They were out on the streets – there’s video of them outside of the fence … we’ve seen them out on the streets.
WILLIAMS: Okay, so we can review what took them out there, but again, this is such an easy political out for people who want to politicize what’s going on.
REPORTER 2: Do you think Trump is politicizing this?
WILLIAMS: The politicizing of the violence is what I’m talking about, okay? I’m not going to get into a debate. I don’t walk in that lane. I walk in the law enforcement lane. This, look around, I mean, do you think it’s okay? Is there any justification for this? I hope not. I mean, Portland is losing its soul right now, and what’s coming out of City Hall, calling cops liars, that they’re the ones starting the fires and then blaming protesters, I mean, how ridiculous is that? That’s not leadership. So, what I will tell you is, this needs to stop. People lawfully protesting need to be able to do it safely and work together for the changes they’re asking for in a democratic – following democracy, and legislative changes, policy changes, whatever, but this isn’t accomplishing anything.
REPORTER 1: How long can last night or the last 50 days, how long can the status quo go on?
WILLIAMS: Well, you know, that’s a great question. Is this, for a city who likes to have a reputation as environmentally sound, does this help? Yesterday morning there were hundreds of plastic bottles out here? How does that help the climate? The environment? So, how long this goes on? You have to ask the community how long they’re willing to tolerate this mindless violence because this doesn’t promote the cause of protesters, it just destroys property. And so, to answer your question, if there are allegations of misconduct, there are investigations going on right now, it’s a process, there’s accountability in every agency, that’s why you have these measures that you go through when you do an investigation. So, if you’ve got an allegation that needs to be reviewed and looked at, it’s a process, it’s called the criminal justice system. And the administrative side of an agency review, every agency has it, every agency goes through it, whether it’s state, local, or federal.
REPORTER 2: Can I just ask you, who had the drone up last night?
WILLIAMS: I have no idea.
REPORTER 2: Was it–
WILLIAMS: I have no idea. News to me, there was a drone up last night, but I’m not surprised. There…
REPORTER 2: Well, I thought that was a no fly drone zone, that’s why I was surprised. I was wondering if it was one of the federal police agencies that [did that].
WILLIAMS: I have no idea. You’re telling me something I don’t know about this morning.
REPORTER 3: You were talking about specific change of leadership. … You were talking about specific change in leadership up at City Hall…
WILLIAMS: I didn’t talk about a change in leadership. What I talked about is there needs to be leadership.
REPORTER 3: So, who do you want to show leadership?
WILLIAMS: No, that’s up to voters in the in the city of Portland. What I’m saying is, if you don’t help direct this in a different direction, you’re enabling violence. That’s what I’m telling you.
REPORTER 2: Do you think when the mayor came down the other night and talked to protesters that that was enabling it or was he helping to quell it?
WILLIAMS: You know, the mayor is the mayor of Portland. He can come down and talk to whomever he wants to. Mayor Wheeler has tried to address the difference between protesters and violence. So, the fact that Mayor Wheeler came down here to engage and answer questions, that’s his choice to do that. It’s not a criticism – and the fact that people turned violent and were yelling terrible things at him, that doesn’t help the city or [end] this, this just shows you the mindless violence people are willing to engage in. Mayor Wheeler or any anybody else gets to come down and speak at a lawful protest, and no one on this side of the fence wants to interfere with that, but this is nonsense.
REPORTER 2: Let me ask you though, because … he was tear gassed as we all know and he, while he was here, fires were set, fireworks were thrown over this barricade, yet he said he saw nothing that he thought demanded that kind of response that federal agencies gave him.
WILLIAMS: Well, I disagree with that. Federal agents are protecting this property. They are following training and protocols of when and how to respond, and so I don’t agree with that, but I’m not criticizing the mayor for coming down and speaking. He has the right to do that.
REPORTER 3: So, if we’re going back to how you were talking about this is shadowing the overall message about black lives matter, right? You feel like the late night demonstrations are taking away from the fight for racial justice. Is that correct?
WILLIAMS: These aren’t late night demonstrations. This is criminal activity. There’s a difference. What you have failed, and the media have failed to distinguish, between, you seem unwilling to call people engaged in criminal conduct, as criminals, as opposed to lawful protesting.
REPORTER 3: Well, some may argue that the way the federal agents are acting is criminal too, and we’re not saying that.
WILLIAMS: Well, argue away on that.
REPORTER 3: But we’re not saying either, so.
WILLIAMS: I’m just saying there needs to be a distinction made between lawful, constitutionally protected protest, and this. This is unlawful. And people, whether you’re an opportunist, an antagonist, an agitator, or an anarchist, call it out for what it is.
REPORTER 3: So, you’re saying the late night activity that is criminal–
WILLIAMS: What I’m telling you, is you seem to refuse to call something, ‘late night activity,’ this is criminal.
REPORTER 3: I just said the late night activity that you say is criminal, right?
WILLIAMS: What I’m saying is, why can’t you call it out as such?
REPORTER 3: Because I’m not, I don’t have all the police records.
WILLIAMS: You’re using, ‘late night activity,’ it sounds like a party. It’s criminal. Look at the debris. We haven’t had a front door since July 3rd. That’s criminal, okay?
REPORTER 3: But I’m just saying, I’m not a police officer, I don’t get to distinguish that, that’s not my job.
WILLIAMS: No, but you can call it out for what it is. You’re choosing terms that sort of downplay the criminal activity, and what I’m suggesting is if there is an honest accounting of what this is, that helps build the reality check for how this can stop. That’s my point.