The U.S. Attorney for Oregon, Billy J. Williams, accused Portland city officials of engaging in “nonsensical, political theater” in barring local police officials from working with federal officers sent to protect federal property, reported the Oregonian. Williams and Russel E. Burger, an Oregon U.S. Marshal, spoke about the ongoing protests in Portland following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota on May 25.
Williams said the federal government would protect all federal property in the city of Portland. “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,” Williams said. “We’re not leaving.” He blamed “violent extremists” bent on destruction of property, rather than peaceful protestors, for the need for federal officers in Portland. “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.”
The Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse has been the target of violent demonstrators for the past two months, according to Fox News. Protesters have been using fireworks to try to set the building ablaze and throwing objects at federal agents protecting the Courthouse. This month federal agents detained or arrested 60 people for offenses ranging from simple citations to felony charges.
Federal officers are armed with pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets, among other non-lethal weapons said Russel. The officers are maintaining a “defensive posture” to protect the courthouse and do not leave their positions unless rioters try to set fires or assault the fence around the building. Under those circumstances the federal officers attempt the scatter the attackers and push them away from the Courthouse.
The Oregonian reported that six federal officers suffered injuries on Friday evening, including one sent to the hospital after suffering burns from a mortar blast. Despite the ongoing violence, U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer (D – OR) insisted there was no need for a federal presence in Portland. “Portland, Ore., is not out of control,” he said on the House floor last week. “To be sure, there are some people who have strong feelings and there are some who have done things that are inappropriate and unlawful. But that is the challenge of our local officials and our state officials to manage it. Not having somebody unwelcome, uninvited and unprepared coming to take this difficult situation and make it worse.”
Williams has reached out to Portland’s Mayor, Ted Wheeler, and community faith-based groups and business leaders to discuss the situation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Gabriel recognized the motives of protesters. “People are angry. Very large crowds are gathering, expressing deep and legitimate anger with police and the justice system,” Gabriel said. “We wholeheartedly support the community’s constitutionally protected rights to assemble together in large, even rowdy protests and engage in peaceful and civil disobedience.” But cautioned that violence against federal property will not be tolerated. “We have to condemn the ongoing violence against police officers and justice facilities. … If the courthouse can stand and have integrity and not be subject to damage or attack, then the officers will go home. It’s that simple.” Burger had a message for those protesting peacefully for change who have been caught in the crossfire around the Courthouse. “It would be great if the peaceful protesters would tell the violent ones to please stop so they aren’t the recipient of gas or munitions,‘’ he said.