Authorities praised for handling of protests in Portland

AP National - World

Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators march across the Hawthorne Bridge during an “End Domestic Terrorism” rally in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. The group includes organizer Joe Biggs, in green hat, and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, holding megaphone. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After previous political rallies that ended in violence, police in Portland, Oregon, earned praise Monday from outside observers for using a natural barrier — the city’s Willamette River — to keep dueling protesters apart during a weekend far-right rally and large counter-demonstration that included a subset of masked and black-clad anti-fascists.

Two of the 13 people arrested Saturday made a first court appearance Monday, while the rest have court dates next month to allow authorities to process reams of evidence, including videos and photos posted on social media, the Multnomah County district attorney’s office said in a statement. More arrests may come as those postings are reviewed, authorities said.

As the city returned to normal, Mayor Ted Wheeler called Saturday’s dueling demonstrations a win for residents. Oregon’s top federal prosecutor called the handling of the event a “definitive counterpoint” for those who on both sides who have criticized police after past protests for favoring one side or the other.

“We do not tolerate hate and we do not tolerate violence,” Wheeler said. “We had a plan, we executed on that plan and on the whole, it was successful.”

Amid the praise, however, protesters on both sides declared victory — and laid the groundwork for future demonstrations in liberal Portland.

A small group of right-wing protesters camped outside Wheeler’s house Sunday to protest what they say were his attempts to limit free speech. Joe Biggs, a member of the far-right group Proud Boys, vowed that right-wing groups will keep coming to Portland as long as anti-fascists are around.

Joey Gibson, the leader of another right-wing group that’s marched in Portland previously, spoke Monday outside the courthouse where he had a first court appearance on a charge of felony rioting from a May 1 skirmish with anti-fascists. In a video streamed live on Facebook, Gibson said he would not take a plea deal because he had done nothing wrong.

“If you’re liberal, you should be against this,” he said. “They don’t have to support me but they need to stand up for free speech.”

Popular Mobilization, a left-wing group that’s critical of Portland police, credited the counter-demonstrators — not law enforcement — with keeping the city safe and criticized officers for opening the bridge over the Willamette River “solely to escort the hate groups across.”

“People everywhere are fed up and ready to push back against fascism,” PopMob said in a statement. “Instead of hiding in fear alone in our homes, we chose a joyful display of community resilience — a reminder of the power we have when we come together.”

After some early skirmishes, police were largely able to keep the dueling groups apart — a sharp contrast from previous rallies when there were violent clashes.

This time, far-right demonstrators gathered in a riverfront park and then crossed the bridge with the permission of police. Law enforcement then closed the same bridge to the black-clad and masked far-left protesters.

Most of the Proud Boys soon left and a large crowd, including about 50 black-clad antifa, walked the streets looking for them as police followed, blocking intersections to keep traffic flowing. Later, several hundred left-wing protesters skirmished with police near downtown, resulting in some arrests.

The mayor said Monday he supported the police decision to use the bridges to keep protesters apart. The right-wing demonstrators told a police liaison officer they wanted to use the bridge to leave, he said.

“The police made that happen because they believed it was in the best interest of de-escalating the situation,” Wheeler said.

By evening it was all over.

Throughout the day, hundreds of counter-demonstrators — some dressed as bananas, unicorns and pandas — diffused the tension by dancing, praying, listening to a brass band, blowing giant bubbles and singing along the riverfront.

“Much of the counter-protest that I saw this time was much more celebratory, much more creative and artistic. I think that resulted in an increased number of Portlanders who came out and I think it limited the physical confrontation,” said Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center.

The city is planning an event this weekend to encourage people to dine and shop in the part of the city where businesses had to close, Wheeler said.”Last weekend was very tense, this weekend we’re hoping it is plain old fun, the way Portland is in late August in the summer,” he said.

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Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus

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