The U.S. attorney for Oregon ripped elected officials in Portland for using violent clashes between law enforcement and rioters as an excuse for “political theater” rather than working to end the unrest.
U.S. Attorney Billy Williams urged Portland residents to demand action from their local officials in an interview with The Oregonian on Saturday. Oregon’s top federal prosecutor said that voters need to take a stand against “violent extremists” or the nightly assaults would not end.
“Until that happens, we’re going to do what we need to do to protect federal property,” Williams said. “When the violence ends, then there won’t be a need for the presence of nightly federal officers. … It seems quite simple.”
“Anyone who thinks we’re just going to give up the courthouse, Hatfield, Pioneer (Courthouse) or any other federal facility downtown, that’s not going to happen,” he added. “We’re not leaving.”
Williams was appointed as interim U.S. attorney by the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama in 2015, and he was nominated for a four-year term by President Donald Trump and confirmed by a voice vote in the Senate in 2018.
Protests and riots have rocked Portland for two months since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Floyd, a black man, died in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes. Protests over police brutality erupted after video of the arrest circulated on social media. Some protesters have gone as far as to demand the abolition of police departments, and some local officials, such as in Minneapolis, have fallen in line with the radical idea.
The Floyd protests in Portland have morphed from demonstrations over police brutality to anger over federal law enforcement agents who were dispatched to the city earlier this month to protect federal property from vandalism. The anger has manifested in nightly confrontations between rioters and federal agents outside a federal courthouse.
Rioters heave frozen water bottles and commercial-grade fireworks at federal officers who are stationed inside a fence erected around the building to keep vandals and attackers away. Some rioters have shined high-powered laser pointers into federal agents’ eyes, potentially leaving several officers permanently blind.
Williams defended federal agents’ use of tear gas and non-lethal rounds to defend the courthouse, saying that the agents’ orders are to act defensively and use the minimum amount of force required to subdue rioters. Williams also said that the Portland City Council’s recent vote ordering local police to end coordination with federal officers is “short-sighted.”
Federal officers have arrested dozens of people, 46 of which are facing federal charges. Trump has taken a hard stance against the rioting that is rocking major American cities and dispatched federal law enforcement officers to defend federal property in places such as Seattle and Albuquerque.
“Anarchists, Agitators or Protestors who vandalize or damage our Federal Courthouse in Portland, or any Federal Buildings in any of our Cities or States, will be prosecuted under our recently re-enacted Statues & Monuments Act. MINIMUM TEN YEARS IN PRISON. Don’t do it!” Trump tweeted on Monday.
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